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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

I began this post yesterday, on her feast. Didn’t finish it. Going to attempt now.

 

I spent some time today reading about and trying to sort out St. Rose of Lima.  I knew the basics that most of us know, and not much more: mystic, extreme ascetic.  When I was a girl, I remember reading about how she drove her metal-spiked crown of thorns into her scalp. That was, not surprisingly, my main takeaway.

So today, I decided to dig deeper. I read through most of this 19th century biography – a translation into English from French. I read what chapters I could (the first two) of this reassessment and psychological unpacking, and finally settled in a more comfortable place than either of those with a chapter from Four in Heaven (1962) by British author Sheila Kaye-Smith.

What to make of her, the first saint of the Americas, this young woman who engaged in such extreme mortifications that even some of her contemporary confessors and other observers, including her mother,  thought she was going too far?

It might be tempting for us moderns to dismiss figures such as Rose. She was, we might gently suggest, mentally ill.  She was a victim and product of a guilt-ridden Catholic culture who could not simply accept the grace of God, but thought she had to abnegate herself in order to merit it.

But we shouldn’t do that. It is not helpful or right, in a Catholic context, to be so dismissive. Nor is it necessary to uncritically embrace all the hagiography. We must also always remember that in the Catholic view of saints, we bring two perspectives: to imitate st. rose of limaand to admire. We are not called to imitation of every action of every saint, because we live in different cultures, with various personalities. So not feeling the pull to jam a crown of metal thorns into our scalps should not cause anxiety. It’s okay.

In thinking this over, this struck me: it seems to me that even the saints who pursued extreme ways of personal asceticism did not indicate that everyone do the same.

St. Catherine, in her many letters, does not advise her correspondents that the solution to their spiritual problems was to live as she did, on a single grain of rice a day and sleeping on a board (when she slept). There might be a call to change, to repent, and perhaps to embrace some small mortification, but mostly what we read in her writings, at least, is an urgent invitation to realize how deeply Christ loves us and to live in that light, not the darkness the world offers.

They seem quite aware of the uniqueness of their own path, and do not suggest that theirs is the standard by which all others should be judged. In fact, the saints seem to take the opposite tack: as stubborn as they are about their own mortifications, they tend to keep them secret as much as they are able and are uncomfortable with “followers” who are following them rather than following Christ.

In trying to understand St. Rose, these thoughts come to mind.

She sensed a call to belong to Christ alone. In her culture and her family circumstance, she had to go to extremes to make sure that was clear to everyone and she would not be forced into marriage. Perhaps you can see this as manipulation, or you can see it as a strong rejection of the world in a most personal way.

It is interesting and important to note that hardly anyone knew of these mortifications during her life. The people of Lima who flocked to her funeral by the thousands certainly did not – they came because this young woman radiated the love of Christ.

 

St. Rose would say that her mortifications were in fidelity to her call to conform herself completely to Christ. Christ sacrificed himself. Christ’s supreme act of love was his Passion and death.  Many of us think of this call differently today: to accept what sufferings happen to come our way in a sacrificial spirit, in imitation of Christ, rather than to create them ourselves. Perhaps the experience of St. Rose can expand our own approach by helping us understand that living as a disciple does, indeed mean conforming ourselves to the Crucified Christ, accepting that the Cross will be a part of whatever path we follow, but that if we do find ourselves conforming to the world instead, it is time to take action and be more intentional – to make sacrifices in addition to accepting them as they come.

I also wondered, based on the minimal reading I did on this, if perhaps Rose knew herself and we should trust her. Perhaps she knew that she had a tendency to vanity. Perhaps she knew that even if she gave up marriage and lived as sort of anchorite, intensely focused on Christ, that she would still draw attention and that attention, even if it is directed at spiritual rather than physical beauty, would be a temptation to her. Perhaps her extreme mortifications were directed at keeping herself conformed to the humble Christ in the most radical way, a way that she knew, for herself, would be at risk as people were drawn to her. Perhaps she wanted to keep herself radically open to Christ in her physical weakness so that she would always remember it was Jesus, not her, that the people of Lima desired and sought.

I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

It comes down to this. Different culture, but same Jesus, same faith. We are tempted to dismiss it, but that’s not Catholic. Instead, we dig deeper, realize our own cultural limitations, and listen. Because, you know, she’s not wrong.

It’s a mystery, but suffering can be beneficial and bear tremendous fruit. She’s not wrong.

Christian discipleship is about conforming ourselves to Christ. She’s not wrong. 

The world is beautiful (Rose grew flowers!) but can stand between us and God if we don’t know how to love properly.  She’s not wrong.

“Success”  in the spiritual life can lead to an inflated sense of self and hubris.

She’s not wrong.

 

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A blog comment indicated that I was leaving the impression that my lack of follow-up on a promised homeschool takeaway post was perhaps because I was in agony about it.

Yikes, no.

The delay is due more to the fact that it’s hard for me to write about the topic succinctly. I tend to plunge in and just go on and on. I’m going to give myself 30 minutes from start to finish on this one, starting….now. 

But inspired by that nudge, I’ll start. I’ll begin with the personal takeaway, and follow up at another time with my Big Thoughts on Philosophical Issues. I was initially going to write about this in terms of “what I learned,” but as I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t quite and accurate characterization of my takeaway. It wasn’t about learning, it was more about things I knew, but perhaps didn’t know I knew…or didn’t know that I believed so deeply.

When in doubt, bullet points:

  • I didn’t realize how much I had internalized the system. I thought I was all flexible and open, but I wasn’t. Homeschooling freed me in a deep way from assuming that once a certain path is begun, that’s the only way. That is – you start high school at this certain school..does that mean you have to finish there? Does that mean you are locked into the 4-year School Family Treadmill? No.
  • I learned that I’m not an unschooler. Sad. Just couldn’t let go of some things.
  • I learned that the reason we divide fractions is by multiplying the dividend by the reciprocal of the divisor is because that’s what division is . (8 divided by 5 is the same as 8 multiplied by 1/5.  8/5.)
  • Now, I say that, not just as a fun fact, but as a representation of a larger point: I learned a lot through homeschooling. 
  • With the math, as I have said before, I’m not mathy but nor am I terrible at math, img_20160819_110905.jpgand I’ve used it enough to still remember most of everything through Algebra. But using the Art of Problem Solving curricula with my kids taught me a great deal, introduced me to the architecture of mathematics in a way that I had never experienced and was sorry I hadn’t – understanding math the AOPS way would have helped everything make so much more sense to me in high school. So with the fractions and division thing – it was always presented as just a rule, with no reason. Sort of a random weird thing you do when dividing fractions. But it’s not random! There’s a reason! And that reason helps a lot of other things – division itself, fractions, decimals – fall together in a reasonable pattern.
  • But oh, so much more. Stuff I once knew, but had forgotten, and so much I didn’t know – about science, history, art…
  • One of the most wonderful things about homeschooling to me was that I think my kids understood that we were indeed learning together. Yes, I can go on and on about certain subjects, and sometimes they both irritate and amaze me with their questions to me and I say, “Well, I guess I should be flattered that you think I am some sort of encyclopedic genius,” but for the most part our homeschool environment was one of mutual learning and exploration, with me providing resources, guiding and explaining when needed, but me also saying regularly, “Wow, I didn’t know that!”
  • I think it became clear to them that the proper way to look at a teacher is as both an authority and expert of sorts, but also as a co-learner. Not all teachers present themselves that way, of course, but be honest. It’s what we are. I am endlessly curious about almost everything – which is not always a good thing, as it can lead to never being able to just calm down and stop researching – and I hope that they picked up that curiosity and open-mindedness, along with some degree of authoritative understanding – makes for a good learning experience.
  • We were also exposed, on a daily basis, to the fluidity of knowledge. Over and over again we encountered points of information that would be presented in a traditional school textbook as just FACT but are in FACT being called into question by current research and new information.
  • I came to appreciate the sciences and engineering and related fields so very much. I think this is a huge takeaway for me. It is not that I didn’t admire those fields – it’s that I come from a total humanities background – English/history/religion/political science/philosophy. Hardly anyone in my family (which is small, so I don’t have a large study cohort to go on) went into any other field but those. Through the reading that we did, the videos that we watched, the programs that we attended, I came to really appreciate the sciences and related fields as truly creative, exciting areas which contribute so much to human flourishing, even at the most technical levels, and this became a point I communicated to the boys over and over.
  • It may not make sense to some, but my goal as a home educator eventually evolved to: Help them become humble, skillful, wise skeptics. 
  • Humble: so we know how little we know and are never closed.
  • Skillful: so we can do what we need to do (write, compute, make)  well
  • Wise: so our minds are in communion with the Word
  • Skeptics: so we know that all human things, including knowledge, are contingent and temporary
  • I learned a lot about my kids. I am not keen on writing a lot about them in a public space, but I will say that my sense of my older son’s aptitude for planning, logic and making connections was confirmed and deepened by our two years of homeschooling and my appreciation of my younger son’s enthusiastic embrace of All Things Nature was as well.
  • Homeschooling them is going to be of great help to me in advocating for them and guiding them as we not homeschool.
  • On a very practical level, homeschooling revealed to me how many resources there are out there – explicitly educational resources, as well as others – both in real life in the community and online.  I wouldn’t have known about them if I hadn’t been up until 1 am following rabbit trails. There is no excuse for having a boring classroom these days. None.
  • I’m about to run out of time. So I suppose my final takeaway will bleed into the next episode about broader issues.  It was confirmed for me, although I had felt it and it was indeed a reason I decided to homeschool in the first place, how much of a time and energy suck school is. We did “school” in at most three hours a day – not counting days when they did classes or activities outside the home – and although we were busy, home was a pretty relaxed place.  Now they are gone 8 hours a day and re-entry into the home is marked by a flurry of papers, the dream2mental effort for everyone to sort out what needs to be done and when and fatigue and the general, already
    aggravated wistful look forward to May.
  • Don’t get me wrong. There are good teachers teaching interesting things in ways that they could not experience at home and systems that are having to build up ways to help everyone accomplish and learn and I get it. I get the challenges. I’ve been there. It’s just taking some effort to not allow the system and its many often picayune requirements pollute that culture of open-minded, relaxed learning that we enjoyed for four years, and in some small way, to keep it alive here in the amount of time The School Family permits.
  • Trade-off. Just keep saying it. Trade-offs. 

(Other homeschooling posts here, here, here and here. At some point I’ll do a category for these.)

 

 

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Why, yes, I do have homeschooling takeaways, but can’t seem to process them enough to put them down on paper in a coherent way. That will be tomorrow morning’s project – to get that going.

I’ll just say that things are going well so far, although I am already enjoying my fully-expected constant low-grade seething about the quality and quantity of various (not all) assignments at both levels (middle and high school).

And yes, homework for elementary – even middle school – students is a bug, not a feature. The school might respond, “Oh, but how can we get everything done without homework?” I respond, to quote another, Think Different. Begin your curriculum and class preparation and planning with the assumption, “We are not going to give homework” and work from there. You will teach differently, and class time will be spent in different ways, but I doubt the results will be worse.

But as to here – in general, people are content, apparently having internalized my “life is a tradeoff” lectures, and understanding that if you want the good things that school offers – friends, instruction from Interesting and Capable People Who Are Not Mom – well, you have to get up earlier, and you’re going to have to do homework.

You’ll be hungry. You’ll be tired!

I will also say that I certainly hope this is not the end of homeschooling. I can definitely see it – or something else – happening again in different forms as they get older and (I hope) as different modes of schooling make their way into our area (Alabama just approved charter schools last year, so in a few years, something interesting might pop up).

In the meantime, I am adjusting. It is very, very weird to finish cleaning the kitchen at night and not have the next day’s kid activities on my mind and it is very, very weird, to drop off the younger one at school and return to my house before 8 with a full day, free to work in front of me.

I’m not going to say that I’m ecstatic about it. They are in good situations, but homeschooling was good, too, and I miss it a lot.

I am also not sure what to do with this time. It’s not that I don’t have projects. I do, with hopefully a biggish one being confirmed soon that will occupy my fall. But for four years, my creativity – such as it is – has been focused on homeschooling and engaged, all day and every evening, with conversations on learning with one or both of those boys, and now it’s very quiet, during the day at least.

And yes, how much I yearned for quiet for four years, and yes, I knew from experience that once I got it, I would be a bit at sea – because that’s how it goes with life. You live for the semester to just be over, but once your life isn’t filled with going to class, studying or teaching, you have to recalibrate and you don’t know what to do with yourself at first. People retire and then just…die because their beings can’t compute life without the job.

So yes. In a day or two, more of what I’m taking away from homeschooling, both in specific and more general terms.

One thing I’m doing – besides going on rants about Arthur Miller, The Crucible, the Hollywood Ten and the Salem Witch Trials for the benefit of a 15-year old person who is probably thinking, “Uh…I just need to do my powerpoint now, but thanks” – is reading more, more and more.

And reading more…books.

img_20160816_134204.jpg

I had written about this a few weeks or months ago: as much as I appreciate e-readers – and I do read a lot of public domain stuff I would never be able to access otherwise that way – I am consciously trying to redirect my reading energy to actual paper books.

First, I really do believe I retain what I read better via books. Research is showing that this might be generally true, and I definitely feel that it is true for me. Part of it has to do with the fact that reading a book is a physical experience in a way that holding a tablet is not. It engages more of my body and more of my senses, which deepens the experience. As I have said before, my memory of what I read is often tied to where a sentence was located on a page and what that book felt like in my hand.

And I think that my way of reading on a tablet is different than reading a book. Since childhood, I have always been a fast, gulping kind of reader, and e-readers just exacerbate that tendency, since I’m definitely susceptible to the quick, superficial get-on-to-the-next-thing-because-everything-is-here-on-the-Internet reading habit that the Internet seems to engender, and reading e-books are not exempt from that tendency. I read them faster, I don’t linger, I don’t go back and reconsider what I’ve read because it’s kind of a pain to find my place again.

Secondly, I am very conscious of what I’m modeling for my kids. I can’t very well be super-restrictive with them about screens if I’m on a screen all the time, and sorry, the “but it’s a book” doesn’t wash. Because yeah, it might be a book one minute, but it’s probably going to be Facebook or Instagram the next. So it’s much more helpful on that score for me to settle down in their presence with a book in hand rather than one more damn screen.

(And I will say like many kids, they prefer to read “real” books. The only time they’ve read ebooks have generally been when we are traveling. My adult daughter, who is typical of her generation in her relationship to screens, has gotten to the point at which she prefers to read paper books as well – I think we’re all feeling it. We spend enough time on screens. Give us a book again.)

So…library trip. I went downtown to find a copy of a couple of books for my high schooler, and walked away with a stash.

They had a bunch of Mauriac I had never read, I thought I would read some more img_20160816_134216.jpgMaugham, and they very nicely went to the stacks to get the only copy of Priestley’s The Good Companions available in the whole system. An original, published in 1929, still intact, the subject of some commentary by the librarian who fetched it for me.

I started with the shortest – Mauriac’s The Little Misery. Oh, what a FUN read!

Not really. Quite sad, almost unbearably so, but with a hint of redemption at the end. As is often the case with Mauriac, the story concerns a bunch of terrible people who are concerned with status and wealth more than anything else and who either ignore God or promote some perverse image of God that supports their bigotry, selfishness and cruelty.

I was thinking that with Graham Greene, characters see the truth when they are challenged to do the right thing, at a great personal cost. In O’Connor, the protagonist usually experiences some personal injury, humiliation or other sort of pain. With Mauriac, it seems that characters (finally) see a glimmer of truth when the horrible consequences of their actions on others can’t be denied any longer.

In every case, sure, God may have a wonderful plan for you life, but your resistance is strong, and breaking things is painful.

Such is the case here. The novella (I read it in an hour or so) concerns a woman, Paula, who has married into a somewhat aristocratic family simply for the sake of that. Her husband seems to be suffering from some sort of intellectual disability, we’re going to assume, at least in some symbolic way, from inbreeding. Her mother-in-law despises her and she despise the son who is the result, it is implied, from the one time she and her husband came together In That Way. Paula is bitter, feels trapped, sees nothing but misery for the rest of her life, and is seen as the enemy by the others in her household.

The boy has been treated in a way that has rendered him, seemingly at the same level of intelligence as his father, he is sometimes incontinent, and he is regarded as ineducable. Something must be done, however, so the suggestion is made to seek the help of the village schoolmaster, a married man with known Communist sympathies. During an evening with the schoolmaster and his wife, it is clear to us that there might be hope for this boy, but for various reasons, that won’t do, and…well, you have to read it to see what happens. As I said, it’s very sad, but the events, as they do in Mauriac, make clear to these horrible people in a way that nothing else has, how horrible they have been. It is now too late for some things to get better, but not too late – never too late – for a touch of grace, somewhere.

I always finish a Mauriac novel thinking…don’t be that way. Untie the knots, open your eyes, shake it off, and love generously.

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It’s not a Holy Day of Obligation this year. I won’t even start on that one. Fr. Jeff Kirby of the Charleston diocese writes a bit about the issues here.

I’m sharing with you here the chapter on the Assumption from my book Mary and the Christian Life. You can click on each image for a larger, clearer version, or you can just make your life easier by downloading a pdf version of the book here. 

 

 

Interested in more free books? The following are all links to pdf versions of books of mine that our now out of print. Feel free to download and share and even use in the parish book groups.

De-Coding Mary Magdalene

Come Meet Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI

The Power of the Cross

 

 

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No, not kidding…I mean…it’s August already!

Well, if you are involved in parish ministry, you just might be thinking a bit about Advent and Christmas, and I just went and saw that the devotional I wrote for Liguori is up on their website.

Go here to see:

"amy welborn"

 

It won’t be available until October, but as I said, if you are a part of a parish or school that usually provides Advent devotionals for individuals and families..file this away for future reference, and pass it along. It will also be available in Spanish as order time gets closer.

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Almost done, now.

One more practical post, and then next week, Big Thoughts.

Oh, and how is it going? Seems to be going well. It is very interesting to hear the experiences of a child experiencing school for the first time in four years, and with only the faintest memory of the last time, which was first grade. He’s been in classes in other settings, but of course, two hours once a month at the science museum or every other week at the zoo is a little different from…school. He’s pretty intrigued by the process. Aspects of classroom life that other students probably either take for granted or are tired of he finds interesting. It’s hard to explain. 

All right, I need to finish this part up. Let’s go. Yesterday, I outlined how we approached religious instruction. I probably should add that year before last was Confirmation year for the then-8th grader, and that was handled through an excellent school program.

As I have indicated so far, I didn’t homeschool so I could sit my kids down with books and worksheets. I was wanting to provide them with something different than what school was giving them, because I had come to see that school – as it was constructed, as they were experiencing it and as the Forces That Be are determined to make it – is not learning about the world in its complexity and depth, but about being rewarded for making the educational system’s priorities your priorities. Or at last pretending that they are.

What a way to spend almost every day of your life for twelve years.

So in terms of daily life – you can get a taste of it in the Daily Homeschool Report posts, which are all over the place – we did certain things almost every day, used a few textbooks in a few areas, did some drilling in things like cursive and math facts, but other than that tried to prioritize reading, discussing what we were reading and then experiencing life outside the home.

One or both of themselves participated in a lot of outside classes and activities.

McWane Science Center homechool classes

Birmingham Zoo homeschool classes

A Lego robotics group up in Madison, which is close to Huntsville. There was probably one in Birmingham, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find it, so I’m thinking there probably wasn’t one after all at the time. Both of them did it at first, but then the younger one lost interest, so we would go up there, J would do Lego robotics and M and I would go explore – we went to the Rocket Center a lot that fall.

Art classes at the Red Dot Gallery

An art class at Samford Academy of the Arts

Piano instruction through Samford

Boxing at Juarez Boxing

St. Thomas Aquinas Academy – drama and history of science

Weekly homeschool gym and social time on Friday afternoons

Those (except for the Red Dot classes and Piano) were for homeschoolers, particularly. During the time, they both did basketball every year, the older one did scouts, the younger one did children’s schola at the Cathedral for a year, they served Mass in the parish and the convent, and this past year, the younger one has become involved in Fraternus, a new Catholic boys’ and mens’ group.

Those were just the various regular activities. They also participated in various single events – like a rock climbing class, a class at the Birmingham Museum of Art, a field trip the Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

So…books. Interspersed in the post of photos of some of our bookshelves. To save me time.

Handwriting

This is important and awful to teach, unless you have a kid who gets into it. (I once was making conversation with a teen-aged homeschooled girl and I asked her what her favorite subject to study was. “Handwriting,” she said. So there’s one for you.)

But we forged on.

Writing our Catholic Faith

Wacky Sentences Handwriting Workbook

The older a kid got, the more work was done in cursive.

Copywork

I became a huge fan of copywork while homeschooling. If you want to read about the rationale behind it, go here. I think it is a very effective way of practicing the mechanics of handwriting and internalizing good writing. There are a lot of ways to use copywork. img_20160812_102749.jpgSometimes I took passages from books they were reading, interspersed into a more general schedule of that rotated Scripture passages, poetry, passages from literature and sayings/aphorisms. Fridays we did not do copywork – we either did “Friday Freewrite” – from the Brave Writer method – or they illustrated one of the previous week’s copywork passages.

Copywork is so much better than the stupid and invasive trend of beginning-of-class journaling writing prompts that you see in so many classrooms. Here’s a sample I pulled off of a website just now:

10. Persuade a friend to give up drugs.

11. Five years from now, I will be… 

12. Write about a day you’d like to forget. 

13. Invent and describe a new food. 
journal writing prompts
14. Describe an event that changed your life forever, or make up and describe an event that would change your life forever.

15.  Describe someone who is a hero to you and explain why. 

16.  Write about a time in your life when you struggled with a choice and made the right one. 

First of all, answering these prompts teach nothing. I suppose the purpose is to unleash the right brain or get juices flowing, but you have 50 minutes to teach – I don’t know if this is the best use of time.

But that’s not even my most serious problem with this type of activity. Look at those questions – and they are not atypical.

We have become accustomed to schools and educational systems getting personal with our kids. After all…we’re a school family. They’re given surveys on their family lives to fill out, they’re told to put personal information on tests, and they’re tested for drugs. Their reflections about and reactions to material they’ve learned rather than simply learning it and moving on. They’re asked “how do you feel” or “how would you feel” or “have you ever felt.”

Do you know what?

My kids’ memories of a day they would like to forget or an event that changed their lives forever or when they struggled with a choice….is none of their teachers’ business.

What a great day it would be, the day that a class began with kids copying out a passage from, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, noting the specifics of grammar, punctuation and appreciating the mode of expression – instead of being required to share their feelings about some aspect of their personal life with a 27 (or 45 or 60) -year old adult stranger who has a certain degree of power over them.

How about this? How about we tell our kids that if they are asked to “journal” in class in away that violates their privacy that it’s okay for them to just…. make stuff up? I have no problem with that.

People, I taught religion and I never crossed that line. I constantly made connections between what I was teaching – Scripture, history, theology – and the rest of life, and I invited and challenged my students to think about those connections and told them that faith was indeed, all about making those connections and living them, but I never asked them to write personal reflections on anything for me to read. I consider that kind of stuff inappropriate and even an abuse of authority in a classroom setting where students are required to attend and are giving you work on which you will give them a grade that will go on their transcripts.

Also, lazy.

Grammar

I did a bit of grammar with them the first year or so, then tapered off. I think grammar is very interesting and think that sentence diagramming is a powerful tool, but at some point, everyone understood what adverbs were and I decided they were better served by img_20160812_102739.jpgreading more literature rather than parsing grammar – we were also doing more Latin, and doing grammar in that context. I didn’t use one single curriculum for this, but various workbooks. Sometimes I just pulled things of the Internet, but I did make use of these:

We started off with Seton’s English for Young Catholics – grades 2 and 6. I thought they were pretty good. We did those in Europe.

Then we went to the Critical Thinking Company’s Language Mechanic and Editor-in-Chief. Both were fine. I did a lot of skipping around, because some exercises were just too simple.

The Grammar Minutes workbooks are good review.

I would not recommend the English grammar materials put out by Singapore Math.

Now, we never used Singapore Math. Yes, it’s the gold standard that all the Intense Homeschoolers use, but I was told early on that it was too challenging and too different to plunge into midstream and, in short..stay away from the Singapore Math unless you are a img_20160812_102622.jpgTrained Professional!

Okay, that’s fine. I wasn’t really tempted anyway. It looked complicated, with all those bars and such. But then I saw that they had grammar materials, and I thought…well, they must be pretty good! So ordered a few of the books. Received them, looked them over..and filed them away to sell or give away.

I don’t have them anymore, and it’s been three years since I looked at them, so I can’t recall the specifics, but the problem was essentially that the materials were written to teach aspects of the language to non-nativeEnglish speakers. The issues highlighted were not those that a native speaker would be dealing with. I’m sorry I can’t piece the specifics together, but really, if you go to a ESL website and look at the exercises, you’ll probably see what I mean.

Upshot? I think we “did grammar” for a year and half, then I stopped and focused on just writing.

Math

Speaking of math…

As I mentioned in a previous post, we began with what their old school used: Pearson’s EnVision Math. There is a lot of hate for this program on the Internet, even from teachers, but I confess that I, a non-math person, did not hate it. It was deeply flawed, but I actually could see the rationale behind it.

Yes, the program sometimes breaks down problems in what seem to be strange, counter-intuitive ways. But what was interesting to me about it was the presentation of different problem-solving strategies for a single problem or area of study. Given that there are, img_20160812_102633.jpgindeed, different ways to look at mathematics problems, and different ways that make sense to different people, I saw this as helpful.

But where the program collapsed, I felt was in expecting the student to demonstrate mastery of all of the techniques and strategies. That seemed to me to contradict the first premise: that different approaches are all valid and more helpful to some than others.

By the time we had finished those books, I had discovered The Art of Problem Solving programs, and I was all in. I had Joseph (6th-7th) grade do the Pre-Algebra program which was very challenging, but excellent. Michael was a bit young for Beast Academy at first, so we transitioned by using Math Mammoth – which is good, and the Life of Fred which is certainly popular among homeschoolers, quirky and interesting reading for a child, but not a comprehensive math program by any means. It’s good because it gives a narrative understanding of mathematics, but it is really not sufficient.

Wait, you’re saying. You’re a humanities person. What are you doing, talking and teaching math?

Well, I managed, and believe it or not, I was so convincing in the charade that last year, my son would come to me with questions about his high school honors Geometry class expecting me to have the answers! Ha!

But do you know what? I could help him, most of the time. I’ve never considered myself math-y at all, and I never took anything higher than what we called “Advanced Math” back in the day, but I suppose was some sort of basic pre-Calculus and Trig, but I don’t find math impenetrable. And the Art of Problem Solving stuff is so good, you really don’t img_20160812_102644.jpgneed “help” in understanding it, and it’s very well-presented that even I found it interesting. The program digs so deeply, yet effortlessly into the foundations of math, what had been taught to me in a way that seemed just random, actually made sense.

Oh, and I have a theory about education that pertains here.

People become educators for various reasons, but specialists get involved because they love their specialty. Which is great!

The problem, however, can be, that if you are a specialist, and if you are really good at something, if you have a gift for understanding or processing a certain subject…you might not be the best person to teach others, others who don’t look at the subject with a flash of intuitive understanding, but have to slog through the fog of confusion to reach the point that you just “get.”

So no, I’m not a mathematician. But I have had to think through the processes in a way – not only when I was in school, but in helping my older kids – that makes me, at the very least, not useless in accompanying my sons on their Math Journey. As we say.

So..yes to Art of Problem Solving. Even if your kids are in school…consider looking at img_20160812_102902.jpgBeast Academy for younger kids as a supplement and the high school classes and other resources on the website for kids who like math and are not being challenged in school. I consider it one of the best, most valuable discoveries of our homeschooling.

Oh, and since the younger one was learning his multiplication tables during part of our time together, I’ll mention that the best drilling app I found was this one: Quick Math.

Latin:

I started them both with …Getting Started with Latin – one in 6th and then the younger one in 5th grade. It’s a super casual, easy introduction. You are probably not going to remember what you learn in this way for the rest of your life or maybe even longer than a year, but as I said, it’s painless and somewhat entertaining. If an authorial sense of humor can shine through in workbook translation exercises, it does here.

We then moved to Visual Latin with the older one, and while the videos were entertaining at first, we both found the course wearisome after about ten lessons. The instructor’s schtick gets old and there was just something about the mode of watching videos and doing printed off worksheets that made retention a challenge. I don’t recommend it, but if you are determined to use it, I can sell you the DVD’s of the first course for cheap!

When it came time for the younger one to hit Latin more seriously, I moved to Latin for Children I had briefly reviewed a friends’ copy and it looked good. I was generally pleased with it, and the lessons stuck. The only thing I would say is to not bother with the activities book. It almost seemed as if some of the puzzles had been computer-generated rather than pulled together by hand, and they were in general either too simple or needlessly tedious.

Okay, that’s it. There’s more, but I’m getting tired of writing about this. I may pick up a few more areas on Monday, but if I don’t, check out the Homeschool Daily Reports. Most of the rest of it – the history, science and literature – involved non-textbook books and activities, anyway.

Are you a homeschooler? How many quarter-filled out activity books do you own?!

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Fourth in a series. The others are here: My family background in education; the decision to homeschool; the basics of homeschooling for us.

This entry was going to be one entry on resources, followed by a “what I learned” post tomorrow. But I think I’m going to split the resources post in two, post the other half tomorrow, and save “what I learned” for Monday. Or maybe Monday and Tuesday. Every time I start thinking about it, I get all rant-y about education and can’t think in less that 5000 words, and that’s not fun for anyone.

So…what did we use for homeschooling?

As I mentioned before, there really was no way I was going to do a boxed curriculum. I couldn’t see the sense of it. There are so many great resources out there, I saw no reason to confine the boys to a certain way of learning, and while I wasn’t going to tie us to a specific style either, I did lean towards Charlotte Mason, which emphasizes “living books” (as opposed to textbooks) and experiencing nature/life/journaling – anyway.

OH..I should mention this. I probably should have mentioned it a couple of entries ago, because this played a huge role in my decision to homechool and how to go about it. Yes, this post will definitely get split into two sections now. Geez. How could I forget this.

What did the state of Alabama require us to do as homeschoolers?

Not much.

Alabama has very, very loose homeschooling rules. It even veers to..”almost none.”

Here’s how it works.

You make a decision to homeschool. The next thing is that you have to find what they call a “cover school” with which to associate. A cover school is the entity that mediates between the homeschooling family and the state – you register with the cover school, and the cover school tells the school system that you are enrolled.

At the end of the school year, you tell the cover school, “Yes, we had school for 180 days.”

AND THAT’S IT.

"amy welborn"

That is all you have to do. INFP dream life. You don’t have to report curriculum. You don’t have to test. You don’t have to inspected or certified or provide any more detailed documentation. All you have to do is report attendance.

It’s great. And honestly, I don’t know if I would have homeschooled if we had to provide a lot of detail to the government about what we were doing. One, having to do so really would tick me off. Secondly, I’m so disorganized lazy such an INFP it would be a lot of hassle, and I suspect it would have tilted that equation back in the direction of school.

Not kidding. As I considered this, I was all about the “sacrifice” and yes I was willing to sacrifice my time alone and creative energy that could go for work projects, but when you start talking “student portfolios” and “year-end evaluation” – I’m out. Jesus, take the wheel, because that cross is too heavy, and if I could think of one more metaphor, I’d use it.

When I was first learning about this, I also found it odd that the cover schools have to be church-associated. That got my dander up, and I was all about diversity and down on backwards Alabama, but then I realized that there’s a purpose for that.

First, the “church” can be any religious association you can dream up, so there are cover schools that are run by, oh, I don’t know, the Sisterhood of Transcendentally Aware Unicorn Seekers as well as First Church of the Blood of the King and Lord Jesus Holiness Tabernacle In the Piggly-Wiggly Parking Lot.

The purpose of it is to keep the state’s hands off of homeschooling activities, since in Alabama, chuch-related schools don’t have to operate by state standards. They can if they want to, and most do, but there’s no requirement.

So it actually makes sense – if you value your homeschooling independence. But I guess you could be against that.

If you’re a fascist.

Cover schools in Alabama provide more than just that letter to the school board, of course. Many sponsor activities and all provide transcripts when requested and the information is supplied by the parent. There is a diocesan cover school here, but I was a part of Everest Academy, which has a great, helpful website and sponsors good activities – last year, for example, M did a rock-climbing course and we went to a very nice program on Japanese art at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

So now…back to the specifics.

I didn’t want to use a boxed curriculum. There are no hybrid schools in the area and I was not aware of any co-ops that I might want to join. I had heard about a couple in outlying communities, but that would not be worth the drive. Last year, a fabulous local Catholic homeschooling mom began a homeschooling “academy” working out of the Cathedral. It did very well, and is expanding this year. M really enjoyed it, taking classes on drama and the history of science. Here’s the website.Here’s the website.

I also did not want to do online classes. I considered it, and looked into it, and if we had continued to homeschool in high school (or if we do in the future), I’ll look into it again – although as I considered homeschooling high school, my thoughts were leaning more towards hiring tutors for science, math and language rather than doing online classes.

Why not? I know many find them very useful, and I’m sure they are. But I really am not enthusiastic about kids in front of screens, even at home, and I don’t know what I think about my kids establishing even casual friendships with others online. We just don’t do that – don’t do online gaming, etc.

I did think about my older son doing an Art of Problem Solving math class, but when I looked into it more closely, I decided the pace was just too fast. He’s sort of math-y, but not that math-y, and there was really no reason to put him under that kind of pressure.

So. No online classes. No preset curricula. So…where does that leave us?

Well, the first place it leaves us is trying to figure out where we have been left. There are a zillion books and websites on homeschooling. What your homeschool is going to look like is completely up to you and your children. But getting ideas from others helps. Here’s where I looked:

  • Homeschooling blogs and other websites. This can be overwhelming, because there are so many of them and people going about them in different ways. It’s very easy to feel intimidated, but don’t. That said, after the initial decision was made, I didn’t spend a lot of time on homeschooling blogs unless a search on a specific question took me there. Everyone is just so different, there was no reason for me to use another person’s experience as a permanent reference point.
  • Discussion boards – now these are useful – and not just in terms of homeschooling. I tend to find discussion boards one of the most useful information sources on the internet. Even if I don’t enter the fray with my own question, what I find is that someone out there probably has the same question as I do and someone else has an answer that applies, no matter what the topic: Why won’t the stupid snake eat the stupid thawed out rat? Why won’t the Ipod turn on? How can I unclog my dishwasher? Bologna or Ferrara for a base? How can I help the hummingbirds stop dive-bombing each other and all get along?
  • So with homeschooling, my go to resource has been the discussion board at the Well-Trained Mind website. The Well-Trained Mind is the homeschooling community and resource center that has as its core the work of Susan Wise Bauer, known for her texts on history and writing and advocacy of classical education. If you are considering homeschooling – or even if you are not and are simply looking for ideas for enrichment as a parent or teacher – use this website. I got so many ideas on books and curriculum, I can’t tell you – the give and take between board participants, sharing their opinions of various books and curricula was so very helpful.
  • REAL PEOPLE. IN REAL LIFE.

That last point requires emphasis.

When I got started, I didn’t know many homeschoolers. I think I might have known one homeschooling family here in Birmingham. But just about the time I started, a Catholic unschoolers group started meeting on a monthly basis – and I attended only a couple of times because the meeting place was a good distance from my home. But through that, I made some initial connections, got on some email lists and started getting to know people. Then what happens is that folks start organizing activities, and you go to the activities and you get to know people and make friends. When we returned from Europe, the boys also started doing classes at the science center and the zoo, and I made connections hanging out and talking to other parents in those settings, talking curriculum, home dynamics, activities, and the question every conversation would end with….

So…what are you going to do about…high school?

And we would all just sigh.

I think what I’ll do is just go through a few subjects today, talk about what worked and what didn’t, finished up tomorrow with more of the same and a list of some of my other favorite resources.

Well, I typed that sentence thirty minutes ago, at which point I interspersed a few other paragraphs, and now I’m running out of time – I have a book proposal to work on that I promised “this week because I won’t have the kids at home anymore” – and THIS WEEK is almost over, so I guess I had better get on that.

So I’ll start with one subject: religion.

This really isn’t fair or representative, since I have an MA in religion and have taught it and written books about it, but that also means it’s a good one to get out of the way.

Religion

Didn’t use any texts consistently. Religion instruction (for 2nd-5th grader and a 6th/7th grader) was centered on the following:

  • Daily prayer which was a mash-up of Morning Prayer and the daily Mass readings.
  • Saint of the Day.
  • After prayer proper, I would spin out interesting themes from the prayer, readings and saints. We’d talk more about the saint. We’d look at geography or history. We’d talk more about the liturgical season. We’d look at art related to the saint/feast, etc.
  • I used the Universalis site for prayer and readings.
  • For saints, I used this book and this one as a start.
  • That’s mostly it, in terms of our school-day religious instruction.
  • For specific seasons, I would pull out some old vintage Catholic textbooks and have them read chapters like this one.

 

  • I did get a couple of Faith and Life volume and had the younger one read here and there, but nothing consistent.
  • They serve Mass regularly at the Casa Maria Convent and Retreat HouseCasa Maria Convent and Retreat House and I confess that one of the reasons I have them do it is that since the priests saying Mass and preaching are either experienced retreat masters – and well-known, like Fr. Paul Check, Fr.Andrew Apostoli and Fr. Brian Mullady – or Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word – they always hear good preaching with solid instruction. And since they are sitting right up there six feet from the preacher, facing a couple of dozens sisters and a bunch of retreatants and their mother, chances are good that they will listen to at least some of it.
  • Of course, our travels include churches, monasteries and shrines. Daily.
  • Every once in a while I would lift my head up from this Rich Holistic Teachable Moment Catechetical Tapestry and think of the younger one, “Wait..he does know that there are seven sacraments, right?” And I would quiz him, and he might forget Anointing of the Sick, but other than that, he was good.
  • And our conversations about Scripture were always peppered with me quizzing them on how to do Scriptural citations properly and little things like, “Okay…this reading is from Isaiah. Old or New Testament?” or “Name the Gospels. What comes after the Gospels? What are most of the other books in the New Testament about?” “List the first five books of the Old Testament. What are they called all together?”
  • I don’t see any need to do a lot of theology with kids. Teach them the faith via the Scriptures, the lives of the saints and the liturgical life of the Church, be involved in that life of the Church and the Works of Mercy and make sure they understand the basics. I think that’s a good, solid start. Because all you really need to know  is:

"amy welborn"

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