Please allow me to introduce myself…

Who am I and why would you want to read what I have to say? Well, my name is KT, and I’m a former children’s librarian and educator. I’ve homeschooled my two youngest boys (the Littles) for four years. Their older brother, Big, went to public school and is now in his senior year of college, heading toward a bright, shiny bachelor’s degree in elementary education. The Littles went to public school at first. Littlest went for kindergarten and Middle went through second grade.  Of course, I had sent them both to kindergarten able to read and write fluently with some early math thrown in, so they excelled. But I began to see some problems. They had to get up at 6 a.m. to take an hour bus ride to a school that is 15 minutes away. If I drove them, I had to fight the drop-off and pick-up line at school, which took as long as the bus ride.  Also, I found through my experiences in education that most of the early elementary classes only had about 3 hours a day of learning. The rest was spent lining up for and attending lunch, recess, and bathroom breaks. I felt uncomfortable, like I was sending my children to school mostly to learn how to stand in line quietly and behave like everyone else.

My husband had been asking me to homeschool since before Middle started kindergarten. I was working as a children’s librarian at the time, and I dearly loved the job. I met some of the brightest kids in the county there and was often surprised to find out they were homeschooled. I, like many city-born, public-school-hatched people, previously had some vaguely disturbing ideas about homeschool. I thought homeschoolers were all socially awkward or deeply religious people who didn’t use healthcare and kept their families out of the mainstream in cultish manner. Sheesh. Haven’t we all dealt with that misconception? Working at the library, and meeting these super-intelligent, well-spoken, outgoing little human beings, I saw the error of my thinking. So when I realized my kids weren’t getting the in-depth education I wanted for them, that mostly they were learning how to stand in line and excel at standardized testing (a skill that doesn’t do anyone nearly as much good as adults as the ability to think on one’s feet), I began to have a different thought process altogether… If I had prepared them so well to start school, why couldn’t I do the same for them in finishing school?

My husband was more pleased with my decision than I was. I was scared. To death. First, what if all my prior prejudices about homeschooling were true? Second, how were my colleagues and family going to react? (Not so well, but that is a different post altogether.) I felt I was good at teaching other people’s children for a few hours a day, but what if I completely bumbled this thing and stymied my boys’ budding intellects? What if I couldn’t do it? What if they turned out weird?

Thing is, homeschooling is awesome in that it is as easy or as difficult as you make it. I decided early on I would plan their entire curriculum myself. I know other homeschool familes rely on prepared curricula such as Abeka, but I wanted a secular program for my boys.  I didn’t want to mix education and spirituality.  Just my choice.  The first year, I did everything separately. Littlest was only in 1st grade and Middle was in 3rd.   The disparity seemed too great to teach them together. By the second year, when Littlest had down every basic an early elementary student should master, I started teaching them some subjects together: history, science, Spanish, art, and reading. We still combine most curricula today, doing only math and spelling separately. Last year we did a music theory class from MIT’s list of free college courses, found here http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/find-by-topic/  and my 3rd and 5th grade Littles rocked that college class! This year we’re doing an Art History class that pulls from both high school and college texts. So when I think back to how scared I was starting out, I have to chuckle at myself. My boys are learning things I didn’t even know about until college. And they are excelling. I must be doing something right!   Also, without even really trying I found a great group of homeschool families whom we meet with from time to time for play or combined school activities.  Any weirdness in the Littles doesn’t come from their school atmosphere (they probably inherited it from their mother)!  They are as comfortable with adults as they are with other children, polite to everyone, and fully capable of forming some amazing opinions about the world.

As suggested by my blog title, I use literature in a lot of ways to teach a lot of subjects. Literature, especially the classics, is amazing for teaching vocabulary, critical thinking, geography, and even science. Finding books that coincide with whatever period of history you’re studying is a great way to help students put history facts into context. It gives them pictures in their heads of the era they are studying.  You can see why I have a fire for it! We set aside part of every school day for reading aloud. Last year we did Black Beauty, Robinson Crusoe, The Secret Garden, Matilda, Ramona and Her Mother, Charlotte’s Web, Abel’s Island, and A Christmas Carol. I plan the literature curriculum as stringently as I do history or science. We do activities to help concrete the story in our heads. We answer study questions. We study unfamiliar vocabulary. It is a class in our day as much as math or grammar or Spanish.

You’ve always heard that reading aloud with your children gives them a leg up. So stay with me and let’s keep this fire burning! Continuing to read aloud with your kids will give them thousands of opportunities to learn things that in our hectic homeschool schedules we might otherwise forget. Besides. It’s really fun.

Love wins,

KT

 

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