Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Homeschooling, home-ed, whatever one wants to call it

"Flexible" is an answer I like to give when asked what our "homeschool style" is, and I don't really like to say that we're using a curriculum, because that can give the idea that we're, um, well, using a curriculum! If we lived in the U.S. (or any place else with a readily available library of books in English), I doubt that we'd be "using" as much as we are, but as it is, Sonlight, the way we use it, is a very good fit for us. What it means is that we get to read a whole bunch of really great books, quite a few of which never would have caught my eye either by the title or the subject.

Although most of the people reading this are people I "know" from e-mail lists and therefore know all about Sonlight, here's a quick explanation: lots and lots of real books (not textbooks)! The people who started Sonlight were trying to put together books for expatriot U.S.ians who had little or no access to libraries. Sonlight is now pretty popular in the U.S., I gather, but they still very much meet the needs (or desires, anyway) of us ex-pats. The so called "Core" levels are not grade-based, although they generally do progress in required reading level and/or level of maturity, but they can easily be used "out of order" and for a large age-range. Good books are timeless and ageless, and a significant percentage of the books we read appeal to everyone from Katie (five and a half) to me, and even Helen (two and a half) is often interested. Also, we only use the "Core", which officially includes history, geography, and literature, and sometimes Bible. I did buy Language Arts 1 for Marie way back when and quit using it after about three weeks, traded it a couple of years later to someone for LA K for Jacob, and didn't last a week with it. So much for LA, and we've never used the science, either, although we do have a lot of the "real books" listed in the science sections.

Marie, being my oldest, and the one who was begging to "do school", got the most school-ish schooling for a couple of years, starting with Sonlight's then pre-K program, which didn't even come with an "Instructor's Guide" (IG) at the time, and I personally think it's silly that it does now. (At least, I think it does, or maybe just the second year does--they now have two pre-K programs.) Then she did K, 1, and 2, all mostly following the schedule as in the IG, although I never did use the discussion questions and most often we read considerably more at a sitting than was scheduled. Somewhere during SL-1, Jacob started listening in more and more, and by SL-2, he was fully involved. Core K is a sort of overview of world history, and Cores 1 and 2 are World History.

At some point I thought it was a pity that Jacob had missed out on the K books, so I piled them all up and he chose and I read, and we both enjoyed that very much. So much for the schedule!

Then because of coming way too close to losing custody of the children in Germany, Marie and Jacob went to school for six months, then the next six months we were out of Germany and did what I call "deschooling". Finances (or lack thereof) and travel plans (or hopes for) meant that continuing with Sonlight wasn't an option right after that, but I already owned "Mystery of History" Volume 1, so we read through that, then got Volume 2, then headed for South Africa, where we lived a two-minute walk from a library. HEAVEN! After a couple of weeks one of the librarians asked very hesitantly, if she could ask me something. When I said yes, she asked if we by any chance homeschool. When I said yes, and then asked why she thought so, she said because she'd never seen anyone check out so many books. (Each of the four children, including Katie, who was two years old, had a library card, as did I, which allowed us a maximum of 34 books, and we had to go to the library at least two or three times a week to keep us in books.) While we were in South Africa, I did have a copy of a South African curriculum guide based on Five in a Row, called "Little Footprints", but we never managed to do many of the activities--just used it as a list for books that we might not have chosen on our own.

Incidentally, a few weeks later the librarian asked if we by any chance had a television, and when I said no, she said she hadn't thought so, as she'd never seen children who loved books so much. The positive comments we experienced in South Africa were so encouraging, and so refreshing after nearly having had custody of our children taken away in Germany just because I thought reading to my six-year-old while cuddling on the couch was a more positive and effective learning experience than putting him in a classroom with 25 other six-year-olds.

Back in Germany we were able to continue with Sonlight Core 3 (got away with that semi-legally by not bothering to point out to the authorities that we'd returned), moved to Cyprus and continued with Core 3, finished, went on to Core 4, and at the end of last year started Core 5, which friends GAVE us a couple of years ago. Cores 3 and 4 are American history, and what's cool is that it really is AMERICAN history, not just U.S. Admittedly, it's heavy on United States history, but as that's where I am actually from, that's not so bad, and interesting, and has plenty about Europe, as well. But it also included more about South America and Canada that one would see in most U.S. curricula. (Helen's favorite bedtime song is the Canadian national anthem, thanks to that unit, but oh well, it's a lot easier to sing than the U.S. one!)

And now Marie and Jacob are using Core 5, which is about the Eastern Hemisphere, and is rather different from the other Cores in including a lot of research. So far, they are loving it and doing that portion of it 100% independently. They'd both be perfectly happy to read all of the books themselves, too, but I don't want to miss out on the fun! Also, they just "happen" to have studied Japan over the last few weeks, so when we were looking at the maps of Japan with the news reports about the earthquake and tsunami last week and I started to tell them the names of the main islands, they interrupted me to tell me more than I had remembered myself from being an exchange student in Japan 25 years ago, told me about other earthquakes in the time since then, and knew all sorts of things that I didn't have a clue about...

I read all of the Core K books to Lukas last year with the "pile method" as I had with Jacob, and am now reading Core 1 with Lukas and Katie, more-or-less following the order in the schedule, but not much else, and we're nearly through. Occasionally I have to go looking for one of the books we're trying to read, because it has been borrowed by Marie or Jacob, so one could say that they're also using Core 1 at the moment. Good books stay good books.

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