I wanted to write one more post about our homeschooling year, because the last time I described our day-to-day approach we were using a fairly strict schedule with the morning divided into predictable 15-minute chunks. This strategy lets you cover the bases, and makes it easier, I think, to work with strong-willed kids. If my expectations are encapsulated in the day's routine, if I don't even have to state them because everybody knows that at 10:00 we talk about history (M/W) or science (T/Th), then we argue about them less often.
But maintaining such a schedule in a home with four kids requires significant discipline and sometimes limits learning. In general, I find that fifteen-minute chunks work well with my kids' attention spans. Sometimes when my oldest son was younger, we would spend a long stretch of time learning about a particular subject that caught his fancy on a particular day. And then...he'd be done for the day. I'd think, What about math? history?
This is a point of disagreement between unschoolers and school-at-homers. Unschoolers would say that an hour spent delightedly immersed in understanding a new facet of botany or geometry or what have you is far more valuable than an hour spent in parent-directed drill. I see their point. I also worry about gaps in my kids' education, and about the tendency, a struggle for most of us since the Fall, to avoid what's difficult even when it's necessary.
So we compromised. From August until November, and from January until April, we used a schedule pretty faithfully. During Advent and Easter, we were a lot more flexible. I wrote about our Advent routine at the time, but I also wanted to write a bit about what we did, and why we did it, during the last part of the school year.
At Easter, Pete started walking well. Gone were the days when he would sit peaceably in the sling, listening as I read aloud to his brothers. There were new realms to conquer, Legos to eat, injuries to sustain. Part of the change in our daily schedule was practical: homeschooling requires parents to accommodate the needs of younger children, which I have always found most intense during the first half of the second year.
So we spent our mornings around the house, puttering until Pete exhausted himself hunting down hapless dust bunnies and eating them whole. Around 10:30, when he took his morning nap, we all piled on the couch to read a chapter from an E. Nesbit book. Her books took us in surprising directions: why are the days so long in England in July? We'd pull the laminated world map out from its spot behind a low bookshelf and all kneel around it, tracing latitude lines from London across the Atlantic to Canada. We talked about magnetic north and true north and why you wouldn't need a coat at Christmastime in Canberra. Of course we talked about the books themselves, which are wonderful -- rich and engaging and funny, moral but not in the least preachy.
At the beginning of the year I had laid out my goals for the boys, and in the month of May we concentrated on some unfinished items. They worked together on US geography; my oldest son worked independently on composition, cursive writing (still wobbly), and the 6/7/8 multiplication tables. (After our conversation on non-Euclidean geometry, my husband pulled The Riemann Hypothesis off the shelf for me. It's much better than I expected it to be. One of the early chapters says mathematicians are frequently sloppy at arithmetic, so perhaps Alex's lingering hesitation about whether six sevens is really 42 augurs well for his future as an abstract thinker. But I feel an obligation to send him to fourth grade with his times tables down pat.)
This approach to homeschooling produces less tangible fruit than the other. There are no written records of science experiments, but there is a slow accretion of information about the plumage and the habits of the birds at our feeders. There are few directed writing assignments, but there are homemade cards and signs (my favorite sign ever was the one posted on the bathroom door: Stop. Pay toll. $50 to enter) and letters to the neighborhood puppy. (Dear Hannah, one said, We are going to bring you some sticks!)
Whenever I think about what I hope to accomplish in these slower-paced days, a Carrie Newcomer song comes to mind. Hymns of geese fly overhead, she sings, and I think about the heavens telling the glory of God. ...And spread their wings like their parents did, she goes on, and I think about how I hope to teach my children to make the most of the gifts they have been given, to be eager for fledging and flight.
It is a song about the sacredness of the mundane and it reminds me to make of my ordinary tasks an offering: to chop the onion and correct the spelling and clean the shower and channel the toddler into a safer path (again) all for the love of God. "Redemption everywhere I look" -- that's my favorite line, and it sums up my hope for my boys as we wrap up, for now, this homeschooling chapter of our lives. Let them see the world truly, fallen and redeemed, full of beauty even as it is passing away.