Outlook on the New School Year

The 2017-2018 school year has started for East Baton Rouge Parish, but not quite yet for the Carruth Classical Conservatory. Do you like the name? I’m trying out different options for our homeschool to see how they fit.   Louisiana doesn’t require us to name our school, so it’s just for funsies. We moved back into our house a few weeks ago and have been hard at work getting the kitchen finished. It will be many more weeks until everything is finally, fully done but a half finished house is better than a too-small trailer.

I’ve been steadily prepping for school since we got back in the house; I’ve ordered all the books, written lesson plans for the first quarter and I’m working out which subjects I’ll teach jointly. This year I’ll teach not only Evangeline, but Felicity as well. Last week the girls’ and I started re-acclimating ourselves to a homeschool schedule. We start our day with a prayer, then calendar work, counting and learning a new vocabulary word. In September when we begin our full school schedule, this will remain our morning routine.

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I’ve spent two years teaching Evangeline and my instincts have been molded by my interactions with her. Teaching Felicity is a daunting proposition. Felicity is a spirit all of her own and functions on an entirely different wavelength than the rest of us.

Evangeline is structured and enjoys rules. She likes sitting down and being taught; she likes the sense of accomplishment a completed worksheet brings. She thrives in a school room setting and basks in the one on one attention of homeschool. She likes to jump rope with the line between daughter and student. She frustrates easily and is offended to find things she did not already know.

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Felicity just enjoys the world; she is oblivious to circumstances. She can be sitting in a classroom, walking through a grocery store or kneeling in mass, when a thought occurs to her, she acts on it. About 90% of the time, her thoughts have nothing to do with what’s going on around her; her internal life is very active. She enjoys having her own work to do and can really zero in on a worksheet or coloring page. The thought of teaching her a lesson however makes me twitch. Just going through this morning routine for a week, I know she’s not one who will sit still and listen: “Sit down Felicity. Take that out of your mouth. We’ll get water in a second. Where are your pants?!”

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She’s 5 and we are working on sitting still during mass and at supper. I don’t think it’s necessary to beat the horse for homeschooling. In fact, while I have many concerns about teaching Felicity, my greatest worry is that I will crush her little spirit. She is so resilient and joyful. Happiness and affection simply beam out of her. But she can get underfoot and strike a nerve quicker than her siblings do. Maybe it’s because she and childhood-me are very similar; her flaws have been my flaws that I work hard to overcome. It isn’t fair and I have to remind myself often that she is a lovely 5 year old who is doing well on her journey to holiness.

This fear is the driving force as I make decisions for her school year. I want her Kindergarten year to be gentler than Evangeline’s was. She’s already ahead of where Evie started just because she’s had the benefit of an older sister in school.  I’m going to start with basics, but I expect her to make quick advances. I want her to accidentally learn rather than be taught directly. I want to help explain the world around her as she discovers it. My motto for Felicity this year is from Mr. Rogers

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

-Fred Rogers

 

An approach like this would drive Evangeline crazy. She likes the structure. Her’s is the hardest head in the family…well maybe after mine. She is so quick to draw a line in the sand and hunker down. That spirit could do with a little crushing if you know what I mean. My mottos for her year are meant more as instruction and encouragement for myself.

“You will accomplish more by kind words and a courteous manner than by anger or sharp rebuke, which should never be used except in necessity”

***

“Do not lose heart, even if you should discover that you lack qualities necessary for the work to which you are called.  He who called you will not desert you, but the moment you are in need He will stretch out His saving hand.”

-Saint Angela Merici

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Teaching the two of these girls will require so much grace and favor from God. I surround myself with inspiring stories of girls adding to the world in tremendous ways through their education (thanks A Mighty Girl and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.) I hope to grow quite a bit this year and learn a great deal about teaching little girls…just in time to start teaching Reuben.

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Evacuation Academy Floats on Alright

We did it! It is done! We finished our first year of homeschooling.  Evangeline finished Kindergarten and is ready to be a first grader!

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To say I am proud of this accomplishment would be a huge understatement. Homeschooling for the first year in and of itself is challenging. Everything is theory until you jump in and try to actually teach your child something. Sure it’s fun to read about different theories and curriculum but when the rubber meets the road it means routine lesson plans and making school time in every busy keep-the-kids-alive day. Add to that being displaced by the flood, juggling the physical and mental needs of 4 kids and 2 adults in new and traumatic surroundings and the task seemed near impossible. Evangeline’s desire to learn and my refusal to fail saw us through the year.

(Minus December which we totally took off because holidays are distracting.)

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When we first started seriously considering homeschooling two years ago, I harbored a secret fear that I would not be able to teach my children to read. How could I? Obviously I learned how to read somehow but I have no training in teaching. People make entire careers out of teaching kids to read. I prepared myself for the possibility that Evangeline would go to first grade not knowing how to read and needing traditional education.

Then she learned to spell her name, and I was on cloud nine.

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We’d done it! I taught her, and she learned one of those big milestone things! She could spell her name. There was no stopping us after that.

I have our full curriculum listed out on our homeschooling tab. Hooked on Phonics definitely worked for us. I plan to use it again with Felicity. We both loved our history lessons. We went through Bede first to get an understanding of time and history, then the History Pockets to learn specifically about Ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. I worked in some geography with this too.

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We’ve used the science book for two years, repeating some lessons. They are fun each time. For Christmas, Evangeline racked up on National Geographic and Smithsonian project kits. This took the place of the science book for the rest of the year 😉 . She also got an Encyclopedia for her birthday in October which we used to look up more about the experiments she was doing.

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We stuck with Saxon math, and Evangeline did well with it. However she moved faster than the lessons did. She’s a quick study and the lessons became short and unfulfilling. I’m planning to stay with Saxon next year but I hope second grade math will be more on the right level.

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I am so pleased with our accomplishments this year. I am proud of both of us for sticking with it and getting through as much material as we did. Evangeline gets frustrated so easily when she encounters something she does not already know. The week she learned “doubles” she couldn’t remember 8+8 and refused to do a math lesson for almost two weeks. As a mother this is frustrating to deal with. It took a lot of discipline to keep on the teacher hat and help her work through her frustration. That is no easy task but such a rewarding one. Seeing her work through a math concept she struggled with is a victory for both of us!

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Mostly I am proud to see my daughter love learning. Her encyclopedia is her favorite book, she walks through the library looking for new things to read and she is constantly identifying things in the world around her. Any question she has, she knows how to go about finding an answer.

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It also makes my reader’s heart proud to hear her say she’s most looking forward to summer because she can read whatever she wants now. We’ve already read through two Magic Treehouse books and she’s set a goal to read all the Fancy Nancy’s at the library. You go girl.

The Patron Saints of Evacuation Academy

It is fair to say our first formal year of homeschooling began under adverse circumstances. Our house flooded in a bizarre, historical monsoon. We evacuated our home and bounced around landed at my parents for a few months before squeezing into the too small FEMA trailer we are in now.

Shortly after the rain stopped, we began Kindergarten.

To say those days were saturated with prayers would be an understatement. So much was uncertain and I spent many nights awake worrying about the kids. We had two opportunities to send Evangeline to traditional school and we deliberated a long time about what would be best. We had planned to home-school and had most of the materials, but would going to a structured new place be better for our anxious blonde little ball of nerves?

Ultimately, we kept Evangeline home and started home-school a month earlier than planned. There seemed to be a consensus among child psychologists and my own mommy-intuition of the benefit of resuming structure and schedule in our day. Even though we were living in unfamiliar places and moving often, at least the kids would know we do math after breakfast and reading before nap time and science in the afternoon.

I took comfort from two stories during this period: The Holy family’s flight to Egypt and Sts. Ursula and Angelia Medici.

Maybe comparing our flood evacuation to the plight of the Holy family from Harod’s sword is hyperbole but it brought me great comfort to think of the fear Mary must have felt and the grace she was granted nonetheless.

Saint Ursula’s story is pious fiction; what is known is that sometime in the 4th century in Cologne the Huns killed a group of Christian virgins. The story has evolved to include Saint Ursula as their leader. She a Christian princess sent to marry a pagan prince, killed in her travels along with her exorbitant number of ladies-in-waiting. For her position as protector of young Christian women, Ursula has been named the patron saint of school girls. Her name was used by Saint Angela Merici in the 1500’s who established the Ursuline monastic order dedicated to educating young girls and women.

This is the same order which sent nuns over perilous seas to the recently settled new world to educate women. Their involvement in establishing cities and clinics in unsettled lands cannot be over stated. Without their aid and support many areas, including New Orleans, would have succumbed completely to disease. Schools in the Ursuline order continue today.

It was with these examples in mind that I set out to start Kindergarten during the most tumultuous time of our kids’ lives. Evangeline has such a sensitive spirit and is so easily put out of sorts. Living somewhere new in uncertain times, she didn’t know what to do with herself. I prayed for the same grace God gave to Mary, to St. Ursula and St. Angelia Merici to educate my whole child: my daughter, my 5 year old, and my refugee.

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Saint Ursula Icon

I’ve kept Saint Ursula as our patron saint of Evacuation Academy. Each time I find myself frustrated I try to call to mind the importance and sensitivity needed to educate my young girl. I was given a most beautiful painted icon of St. Ursula by a friend and I cherish it most dearly. It is so precious I won’t let the kids touch it. Once we are settled back in our house, I plan to set it up in a place of prominence.

Our months of homeschooling have gone well. At least we haven’t given up completely. Few things have given me as much joy as teaching my daughter to read. She has an encyclopedia she carries with her everywhere to look up all the things that pop into hear head. She’s desperate to know every addition fact known to mathematicians the world over.

I am glad of our decision to keep her home. I of course don’t know what would have happened if she went to school each day, but I do know that I have been given opportunities time and time again to calm her anxious spirit and inspire her wonder about the world. For that, I am grateful to homeschooling.

What Has Happened Since

It has been a month and a half since our house flooded and quite a lot has happened since. We are still waiting for FEMA housing; we were assigned a trailer in an existing lot that unfortunately is on the complete opposite side of town and would be at least an hour commute. I am hoping FEMA allows us instead to be placed in a lot nearer to our house. In the meantime we are, again, staying with my eternally generous parents.

Our house is gutted from the waist down and we are waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting) for the studs to dry out enough for us to put the walls back together. That will be step one in the very long process of fixing the house. The large debris pile outside our house was finally picked up this week; it looks like our house again! The full street hasn’t been picked up yet but the lower and lower the piles get the closer to normal it looks.

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We powered through and started homeschooling Evangeline. She finished her first full month today! It has certainly been an exercise in patience for me. The structure of day and the newness of the lessons go a long way to engage Evie. She is our most sensitive to change; this whole experience has affected her the strongest. I know doing our lessons are beneficial to her but I also know when her attitude changes any further attempts to teach will be futile. I’ve come to embrace the phrase “why don’t we finish this after a 5 minute recess?” Some days we just don’t make it back to the school books.

I am proud to say though, that we have only taken two days “off”. Each week we do math and phonics, handwriting, catechism, science and reading. I actually cut one book we were doing because she just hated it and it wasn’t worth fighting with her every time. That’s a personal achievement for sure! All illusions of picture perfect homeschooling went out the window with the flood water and now I’m trying to find our new normal.

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This month and a half has been a lot of work, personal growth and quite a few tears. We have seen such generosity from family, friends and strangers though — money, lodging, food, mattresses and oh so many diapers! It goes against our nature to admit we do need help, but as soon as we do, the response is incredible. I’m only able to blog (my personal public therapy) because amazing friends gifted me a laptop! We know this is going to be a very long road and we won’t be back in our home soon, but the love and kindness of so many people gives us hope and strength.

We’ve been able to squeeze in some fun too, in between the work, schooling and crying. We always love an afternoon at the library and park, we’ve had some birthdays and Evangeline, and I were invited to a local production of one of my all time favorite musicals

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We have bad days but they seem to be fewer than our good days. Keep us in your prayers if you say them. We have so much on our horizon and the weather has started to turn cool; we are surrounded by reasons to be optimistic. I leave you with some cute pictures of the kids doing cute things.

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So, That Happened

When I posted last, I was a week away from meeting my one month goal of regular blog posting. That was 18 days ago. Normally, I’d say there’s no real excuse besides life, but this time I think I do have a pretty good reason.

 

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We live in Baton Rouge.

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Our house took three feet of water and we had to evacuate Saturday August 13 as southeast Louisiana began the flood of a century. We are thankfully not without a place to go; we’ve been bouncing between my parents’ house and a condo we have access to for the next week.  We are knee deep in the insurance and FEMA claim process and hope to be granted temporary housing soon.

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We were able to save a lot of our furniture, but we did lose a bit too. Right now we are focused on what we need day to day. It kinda sucks trying to cook real food without my fully stocked kitchen. The kids don’t really know what to do with themselves being outside their normal environment and routine.

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Despite hell and high water, homeschooling starts tomorrow. Originally, I planned to start after Labor Day, but I think the structure and work of homeschool will be good for Evangeline. She seems to be the most affected by all of this. Of course our cute homeschool area and the so so cool desk we made for her are gone, but we still have all her books. I’m replacing supplies as we go, but we are going to make a go of it this week.

So this is just a quick update to let you know I haven’t given up and our homeschooling adventure just got more interesting.

 

The Decision to Homeschool

We have a busy, hectic home. It is loud and there is a lot of unsolicited nudity.  At a time when many parents look forward to sending their children to school, we are keeping ours home. We may be crazy, but we have thought it out.

It is a real blessing to have so many options available to us to educate all of our children. Having so many options also creates a lot to consider. We’ve found many reasons that make us want to homeschool. There are practical concerns as well as educational ones.

156599We are dissatisfied with the structure of a child’s day in the classroom. I understand many parents are – this is nothing profound. The expectations of a child to sit still and focus for extended periods of time is unkind. The limited time now given to recess and unstructured-play is unacceptable. Young children don’t have long attention spans, their day should be spent mostly in free-play pandering to their imaginations. This is the time when their senses are filled with all the things that will later fill their minds.

The simple fact of classroom management makes field trips and projects much more difficult. Lesson plans are rigorously planned and can’t be changed without consequences. Ryan already works long hours teaching at a local high school. If the children also spent the majority of their day in school, used the evenings for homework and weekends for projects our family life would take a huge hit.

In these regards homeschooling has so many advantages. Lessons can be tailored to our child and their attention span. Lessons can be scrapped or switched easily to fit a child’s interest or simply because of environmental factors (i.e. it’s storming, let’s talk about how lightning works).  At home, we can spend most of the sunlight hours outside at parks or visiting family rather than spending hours at a time indoors in structure and control.

These classroom and scheduling problems are also major complaints of many parents and parents work very hard to combat this. Homeschooling is a viable option for us, however, to avoid this common struggle.

Schools are full of educated and caring teachers, people who’s profession it is to impart learning to students. Well-meaning as I may be, I am not professionally trained. But, unlike teachers in the classroom, I do not need to know how to simultaneously teach 25 children to read; I just need to teach my child at home, in their most comfortable environment. The student to teacher ratio alone gives us an advantage. There is a wealth of knowledge and support as well to homeschooling parents to fill in the gaps of our own education and help us become better capable of teaching our children.

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We have looked at a few different homeschooling programs, I even tried my hand at putting together a curriculum myself. We really want to use a classical method and we’ve settled on The Angelicum Academy for this fall. The classical method uses the syllabus and structure based on the Medieval model of education. A child’s education is divided into three phases roughly coordinating with their natural development: Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric.

A child first learns, essentially, everything they can, both in their bodies and in their environment. Gymnastic play and dance are important elements to introduce the child to the abilities of their own body. They experience as many different environments and are encouraged in unstructured play to interact  with as much of the world around.  Taking advantage of their natural curiosity and sponge-like minds, they are taught to memorize as many lists, facts and poems as their mind can absorb.

From this stage, the child moves into the Logic phase. This is roughly around the ages of 10-12 when the child can begin to use reason. Now they start to apply the knowledge the have learned and begin describing the world. The goal of this stage is to understand and comfortably use formal logic. Their reading becomes more advanced as they seek to expand on their elementary knowledge of various subjects. They begin to explore all sides of things, taking advantage of their natural argumentativeness.

ta-logoThe final stage, Rhetoric, corresponds roughly to the mid-teen years. The student understands much of the world, as well as how to discuss and explain it. They are now ready to delve into philosophy and speak of truths and un-truths. They understand language and the ways in which it is used to impart truth as well as misconceptions. They understand also the theoretical knowledge of those subjects they have chosen to study more closely. They can now express themselves clearly and logically. They can put forth arguments and dissect fallacies. This ability can be applied to any area of study.

The ultimate goal of classical education is to produce a well-rounded, educated adult capable of complex thought. A successful classical education builds a firm foundation for future learning.

This is what we want for our children and we hope homeschooling will help us achieve just that. This fall will be our first real step into teaching. If you think of us during the day, say a prayer for us, will you? We are jumping into the deep end teaching Evangeline with three smaller siblings at home. Below is a list of books we’ve read that have helped us to understand and choose both homeschooling and Classical education.