Monthly Archives: March 2011

Home Education ; children learning to read.

I have had a number of conversations about reading recently. It seems to be the topic of the moment.

One of the questions that those of us who admit in public that we are home educating our children get asked is, “How will you teach them to read?”

A friend has told me her health visitor has made another visit – we were all amazed as no HV we know will leave their desk. But my friend wonders if she is getting extra visits because she has said her children will not be going to school. The HV said in tones of careful admonition, “You will have to teach them to read.”

My friend managed to restrain her reply. She is a better woman than me.

Another mum who knows I have been using  a “scheme” has phoned on more than oe occasion to check out where in the scheme my 6 yr old is. As my 8 yr old is finished with those books, it makes it harder for her to judge ‘where’ he is. In our last conversation I explained that I move between books and scheme. Avila has finished the grade 10 Oxford Reading Books, so we have moved onto Stage 4 of Step Into Reading and then there’s a couple of ORT books at stage 11 for her to read and some Step Into Reading stage 5. She is reading other books as she likes. So I am not asking her to follow a set pattern of reading any more.

I know a lot of home educators believe that schemes are not a good idea, and I do understand their misgivings. The biggest problem with them is that it can lead to a sort of competition, where short cuts are made to ensure the child is ticking the correct achievement box, and if they are not, they will know.  The other problem is that Oxford Reading Tree books in particular are very expensive. Step Into Reading books are much more reasonable. Both lean to the gimmicky approach at times so you need to weed out the twaddle to find the gems. The advantage of them,  to me, is that they are very gradual in building reading vocabulary so the child learning isn’t overwhelmed by lots of new words. I like the fact that the Step Into Reading books are stand alone, so we don’t need a whole load of them. I like the ORT books because they were lent to me :) And the children have enjoyed the Magic Key stories.

All three of the younger children started with Starfall alongside the Oxford Reading Tree books. I decided some time ago that Avila needed to come off the Oxford RT books for a while as they are mixed approach and she really needed a strongly phonics approach to help her decode new words. We went to the old McGuffey Readers for a while, until she was stronger and more confident in reading. It worked, and when she returned to the ORT books she read much more fluently. Those of you reading this for ideas on teaching reading – all I can say is, you will know if your child is struggling, and these days there are a lot of excellent old and free resources that can help.

If she went to school she would be in Year 1 (kindergarten for Americans). The other mother who wanted to know where she was in her reading thought that Stage 10 ORT was very advanced for her age (6). I wasn’t so sure. I have been out of the school loop for a while, so I just didn’t know (or care) whether she was advanced or not. I know she struggles to decode words and her perception of letters is somewhat off, and this has slowed her down; but she can read fine and enjoys reading. That’s what matters to me.

But more recently I have heard mothers say that their children (with no perceived reading problem) have moved to Year 2 while reading Stage 6 or 7 or ORT books. Aha, so my 6 year old is better than theirs? I really doubt that. And something in the conversations that comes up over and over again is that their children are becoming bored and more reluctant to read.  Some parents are by-passing the school and having their children read harder and more interesting books at home to keep the love of reading alive in spite of the “scheme,” and in spite the number of mums reporting that the teacher will not accept their child needs more challenge.

I have to say, I can’t really think that I have “taught” any of the younger children to read. I did have to re-teach Alex to read, and that was a very different process. But the younger ones just show interest in words and stories and then we read together, they read with me and then they read to me. It sort of happens, without a strictly formal lesson of any kind.

I do make sure they read to me  every day. But now they all spend independent time with books, even Heleyna, and they read to one another. They also get quite a bit of time to read to other people’s children. Even Heleyna has “read” to a baby, from one of the little books she knows by heart.

The important part of this process is to leave them with a love of reading. I don’t want them to see books as something of a chore, to do with boredom and banality. If they are stripped of their natural love of reading because I give them boring, poorly written books to read, very, very slowly – then they will have a huge treasure trove of thought, ideas and history closed to them.

So, if there is one piece of advice I would give to a home ed family starting out with younger children learning to read it is this; do not be trapped into the “What stage are yours?” questions. Go as fast or as slowly as your child needs and don’t stick with books they hate, just because you think they should.

Home Education; Book Basket

I have been adding books to the left sidebar to show which books we have been reading here.

But I thought I would add a post for weekly books, both hard copy and online, that we are reading.

Ronan (grade 2 year 3 age 8)  is working through The King of the Golden City. Although it is the study edition, he is just reading it, and we discuss aspects as he goes along. He likes to work out the allegories for himself. He’s been reading some Enyd Blyton books a fellow HE mum lent us, on and off as well.

Avila (grade K year 1 age 6) is reading The Ice Mummy, a Step Into Reading 4 book, which has led to her reading to Ronan because he’s as fascinated by the story as she is. It’s well written with lots of photos of Otzi and the work done to discover more about him. She is also reading an easier book (lent by K) called Best Friends by Brian Ogdan. They story is based around a school classroom where the teacher takes what is happening to the children and relates it to a Bible story.

Heleyna (age 3 nearly 4) is reading the Starfall books and has fallen in love with Zac the Rat.  We are still doing quite a bit of the More.Starfall stuff too. There are new additions to this website which are very useful.

I have printed off the first four readers for Heleyna, so she has a hard copy to read from too.

The Read Alouds this week (from last week) are the Amy Steedman Nursery Book of Bible Stories from the newly vamped Heritage History Site.  I reading Arabella Buckley’s The Fairyland of Science and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book from the Baldwin Classics collection.

I am reading the Vision Books for Lent (some of them). Yes, I know they are children’s books, but that’s about my level this Lent; and anyway, it’s good to read ahead, so I know what the children will be reading. I’ve read St Dominic which is a nice, straight forward story of what the saint did and with some good history around it to put his work in context. There’s a bit in the story, I think, is mistakenly attributed to St. Dominic, when it is really about his contemporary St. Francis of Assisi. Beebe attributes the prophetic dream Pope Innocent III had about someone rebuilding the Church, and holding it up, to be about Dominic, but it was recorded as being about Francis. There’s some famous artwork showing the dream with Francis holding up the Basilica at Rome.  Other than that, however, the book is very good. She even touches on the Lateran Council.

Now I am reading Louis de Wohl’s Saint Joan, which he writes with his usual gusto and attention to fine historical detail. I’ve never read anything much about the Maid d’Orleans before, and I am very interested in why God was so upfront in His saving od France then, and ensuring the Dauphin was crowned. I have some thoughts on it, but I’ll finish the book first and read more about her.

Meanwhile the flower in the attic, Iona is reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

So, that’s our basket this week.

Home Education; teaching children how to be married.

I’ve got a half started post sitting in drafts about teaching sex education in home ed. But reading a few things recently has made me realise that it’s not sex education children need, it’s marriage education. In fact, looking at some of the more traditionally based curricula, I see things that lend itself towards forming children in such a way as to make them good parents when they are old enough. This learning also lends itself to making good priests and religious. In fact I remember Mother Angelica saying (and she isn’t alone in this view) that a woman who has never felt the desire to have children, will make a terrible nun or sister.

The reason I’ve been thinking more about preparing children for marruage, and the discernment of their vocation is because there is yet another bunch of statistics that show annullments in the USA are epidemic, and I am going to assume the problem is nearly as bad, or worse even, here in the UK. From vague memory, I don’t think Australia or Canada are doing well either.

As a whole, Christian marriage is in a mess, as more and more demoninations cave to the culture on divorce and remarriage. The Catholic church still teaches the Biblical law on marraige and still maintains it sacemental nature, but the shocking number of annullments granted begs a few questions:

Have annullments become Catholic divorces? That is, are ‘pastoral’  concerns over-riding truth and validity of marriages? And is this at the expense of children?

Or are these marriages really invalid? In which case an awful lot of people are entering into marruiage without the proper standards and freedom to do so.

Ot is it, as I think is most likely, a messy mixture of the two?

Whatever the root problem, there are some serious problems that need addressing urgently, to try and prevent more broken marriages and destroyed families. The Holy Father has already asked priests to be more aware of who they are marrying, because if these annullments are legit, then a lot of people are coming to the pastors and asking to be married when they have neither the knowledge or freedom to do so, and the pre-marriage preparation on offer at parish level is neither long enough, nor deep enough to root out those who are not validly entering the Sacrament.

Parents, as the primary educators of children, have a “right and duty” to educate our children for their adult life. It’s up to us, first and formost, to ensure out children know what marriage is, how to prepare for it, and what constitutes a valid marriage. And we have to face the fact that the biggest lesson our children will learn on marriage is from their parent’s marriage.

As both Pope Benedict and John Paul II pointed out, a man having a “mid-life crisis” and committing adultery is not grounds for annullment. The adults need to take responsibility for what is happening, and make valiant attempts to protect the children.

Jesus was firm that divorce was not acceptable to God (in fact the OT has the words from God “I hate divorce”, which I think is in Hosea) and Moses had only allowed it thanks to “hardness of hearts”.  Jesus said marriage is for life, unless it has been cotracted in “pornaea”.  A lot of English translaters put this down as “adultery,” but scholars understand Jesus didn’t mean adultery. He meant illegal marriages such as the pagans got up to, where siblings married or some other forbidden set up.  St Paul allowed divorce for those unevenly yoked – that is a Christian to a pagan who might otherwise hand them over to the authorities. This, today, is called the Pauline Privalege.

A marriage is valid when a man and a woman enter into it, freely, in understanding of the nature of the covenant and oath they are taking and open to children. They need to know what the vows mean and they need to know what it means to make a covenantal vow in God’s Name to receive the Sacrament and the grace that goes with it. If someone is standing in the face of God swearing in His name to take that other person til death do them part, and to be open to the children God wants to send, but has no intention of doing either – they are lieing in a very serious manner.

The sad, and scandelous information is that many people have no real idea what marriage is, when they enter into it – and that is what is getting them annulled. And  while it is certianly true that children retain legitimacy, the damage and pain to children in these situations is just as devastating as divorce.

I want any child of mine to first discern what life they are called t,o and if it is marriage to have a full understanding of what that means. There are times to talk and for questions to be answered. They must understand the nature of marriage and the dignity of the person. They must learn about service to others and putting the needs of another ahead of their wants and even needs at times.

They must learn to be responsible and independant, to have life skills and to have such a deep understanding of family life that they can “do family” themselves when the time comes.

I have not, at this point, bought any books or curricula on this, although my older ones have taken a great deal from the talks given by Jason and Chrystalina Evert: there are some good youtube vids which I think I may have posted here some time ago.

I haven’t even mentioned the horrible Wedding-consumer culture. That is truly yuk.

Marriage and Home Education (part IV) Inlaws and outlaws

The next challenge for all marriages and I am afraid I believe, especially for families who choose to home educate, is the place of the wider family, such as siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts and so on.

The fourth Commandment is “Honour your father and mother”. It seems to me it is a “hinge” commandment between the things we owe God (worship only Him, Keep His Name holy, honour the Sabbath/Lord’s Day) and the things we owe in love of neighbour (no murder, theft, adultery, lies and gossip about others, envy of stuff and envy of  people). So it is a very important.

But what does it mean on a practicle level?

Marriage is the moment when a man and a woman leave their old family home under the authority of their parents and, to quote Jesus “Become one flesh.” This sets up a new authority, with the husband as the priest of a new household. The wife works alongside him and together they are the primary educators and carers of the children. That doesn’t mean we suddenly ignore the extended family, or start disrespecting the grandparents. But it does mean the spouse and children come first after God.

In home educating families I know, so far I have yet to come across anyone who hasn’t had to face a very hostile reaction from someone.  It seems to me that it is better to remain silent on the issue as much as possible. You can quietly steer your children away from rude reli’s who set up impromptu ‘tests’ for your children.

I don’t advise getting angry (with them) as it will just cause family problems. Sometimes this can’t be avoided – as a friend of mine is discovering. It is very much harder to deal with this sort of thing when you are just starting out and having to find your feet in the great task ahead. The last thing you need at this point is the sense that you have to jump through hoops to prove you are doing the right thing. 

There is another aspect of the 4th Commandment that needs looking at. What is the duty of a home educating family towards frail or elderly parents. I know Dr Ray Guarendi has his mother in law living with them now. This is something many homeschoolers in America do and it’s something I believe is right. It is actually part of how the children learn. They learn to respect grandma even when she’s confused, frail.

In the UK, it is no longer part of our culture to automatically care for our elderly rekatives. They are put in homes, and left to the care of people like my son and back when I worked -me.  In most cases the older person gets less visitors than the average prisoner.

Part of the atmosphere of education – the culture of the home- needs to be that we serve others. That having younger children around all day, or sick childre, or an elderly relative, is a normal part of life.

I get increasingly uncomfortable with the “put I want my life” attitude that sadly has, in too many cases been handed down to use from our parents who imbibed the 60’s revolution big time.  We can’t turn the whole juggernaut around, but we can, in our little home educating mini-communities, try and ensure our children aren’t drowned in it.

There are obviously many practicle obstacles these days to having grandparents live with you. The major one is housing that is suitable, and the fact that the economy is so weighted against young adults that they can’t move out. But the fact that more adults live in one place, could work out to make it easier to care of a grandparent in their own home, by sharing the care.

Home Education; Language Arts – beginners

I am beginning to realise that there is an order for children to learn the language arts. Not just an order for their learning, but the whole process of acquiring, learning and using language has an order. For me this is a new discovery, but if I dig just a little into the history of education, especially the model set up in the schools of medieval Europe, I see, they already knew there was an order, and in fact they understood this from pre-Christian Classical times.

The Liberal Arts of classical days consisted of the Trivium and Quadrivium. The Trivium is grammar, logic and rhetoric and it was taught in that order. Alongside this the  Quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

So how do I ensure my children have the language skills they need for all their learning and to work through life? The classical approach is to start with a Grammar stage.

Language in children begins before birth. Research shows that the language centres of a girl’s brain are already active well before birth. She is hearing her mother’s voice and tone and reacting to that. Boys language centres respond slightly later. Before the age of two children are not “learning” language, they are acquiring it. Research has clearly shown that the only way a child can acquire language is through interaction with his or her parents and family, especially the mother. Research showed that the silly way we mums talk to our babies, named Motherease by the linguists, actually helps the child acquire language. The constant touch and play and close face to face contact is all part of the process.

Conversely it has been shown that passive observation, such as with a TV, radio or even in a large group with no contact with the speaker – does not help a child’s language development at all. 

One of my Sign Language tutors told us about her baby. She and her husband are profoundly deaf and have no spoken language. Their son was born hearing, so they decided to buy a radio and have it on by his cot. One day her brother, who was  hearing, came to see his nephew and asked her what was the strange noise coming from the nursery. It turned out she hadn’t tuned the radio in, so it was just fuzzing. Even so, when her brother tuned it in properly, her son did not learn English. He learned BSL because that’s what his parents used with him. He began to pick up some spoken English from hearing family members, but he had to learn English when he went to school. His acquired language was BSL.

I have known a few hearing people whose first language is BSL because they were born to Deaf families.

Essentially, if children are going to have the tools for early language arts, they need to have been with their mother to acquire the language. From the age of two onwards they begin the process of learning. Through interaction with older children and adults they begin to correct miscues and mispronouciation and build their spoken vocabulary.

Oral and aural skills are important for children to be able to learn. Reading stories together, looking at pictures together and talking about what we see are all ways to help a child, listen and speak well. This seems to have been much better understood in the  late 19th and early 20 century as language arts books have a lot of discussion excercises in them for the elementary levels. The other thing I notice about these books is the higher level of language expected of the children than I am used to from modern English school books.

Grammar is important for children to learn the rules of language use and to lay the foundation for the future rhetoric stage, when a pricise understanding of how language works should mean the ability to clearly put forward an idea or arguement, both verbally and in writing.

I wish I had learned these things in school. As it happens I am having to learn with the children and a little ahead of them, just to keep up with it all. Fortunately we have Latin and Greek which works like the morter among the English bricks, so that, not only their vocabulary can grow, but their basic understanding of how language works.

The tradition Classical education provuded children with a very sound and broard language base to learn from. This is not about literacy. In fact the more I learn about how children use, build and structure language, the more I realise the “Literacy hour” every day in school is pointless. If the children cannot speak, they cannot write (as teachers are noticing).

Charlotte Mason’s writing assumes that children will spend the first seven years with their mother and family. She is appalled by the German idea that children should go to school much younger, pointing out that even in Sparta, boys were left with their mothers until the age of seven.

By the time children went to her PNEU schools, she expected children to be able to recite, speak and read at a fairly high level. She was not aiming at a certain section of society- this was the way children were supposed to learn.

We are getting something wrong these days aren’t we?

Home Education; Socialisation.

Like just about all home educators we have been asked the socialisation question over and over by various people in various ways. To be honest, in the beginning I think it’s a fair question. I remember wondering how I would handle various aspects of socialisation and social skills in my children outside of school – that is, me having to it, not someone else.  :)

I have less sympathy with those who keep asking the question in a myriad of formats, despite all the clear answers they receive both verbally and through..well…socialising with the home educating family.

This article  is interesting in that it is one more piece of evidence on the massive pile that shows homeschooled children in America are outstripping their schooled peers in all walks of life. Is it the same for home educated children in the UK? I have no idea; although I do know from  what research has been done here that home educated children do better or as well as schooled children academically. It seems that the sheer size of the homeschooling community in America is helping to produce more reliable evidence on outcomes, and those outcomes are good.

In her article Mrs Armstrong makes three very important points (imho); the first is at the end of her article when she reminds (Catholic) home educators that the whole process is sandwiched and founded on a proper prayer life. I concur that prayer is vitally important. It is the battery top up – the powerhouse, that enables us to keep going every day. It is the way we know which way to move in education and then it automatically leads to the second very important point she makes – that we want our children to grow with a formed conscience and good morals. This works best where peer pressure is limited, and where adults with questionable morals do not have free reign over our children’s time.

The finalimportant  point Mrs Armstrong makes, is about how homeschooled children are comforable in their own skin. They are not bothered about what “the culture” says they should be bothered about.They don’t get hung up over the latest trainers, ipod or how they are supposed to look, talk or behave. I am not saying this is true of all homeschooled children. I am quite sure there will be those who spend so much time being “socialised” that they do absorb the culture; but I have to say, I haven’t met many. Nearly all the children we have contact with are just happy in their own skin, and are therefore comfortable around a mixed group of people.

Having said that I have met a few home educated children at the beginning of their life in HE who are in a terrible state. Distressed parents insist that this mute, unable to make eye contact, frightened child is not the child they sent to school. Having been so badly socialised in school, the parents are faced with re-teaching their child to be with other people, and re-teach them how to learn. It can be a tough process- but from what I have heard and seen, it is one that generally works.

marriage (part III) Mother, father and children.

The subject of marriage can and in fact does, fill many a tome so I don’t want to get too bogged down in a few blog posts. What I really want to look at is how marriage should be for a family who have chosen home education.  We acknoweledge that God must come first or else we will start putting ourselves and our own ideas ahead of Him and His commandments; but what happens after that?

For a home educating mother like me how do I order my responsibility to my husband and children? I think Therese nailed it in her comment on my first post

a family flourishes when the person who needs to be served is served. We all get something from looking after everyone in the family.

If God is first He can guide us in discernment when we aren’t sure who should get the lions share of attention, care and love. Obviously, Therese and I have had the experience of a very sick child and that tends to take priority in a very in-yer-face kind of way. But what about the everyday home education set up? How do we – or how are we supposed to balance the place of husband and children?

I remember listening to a whole load of lectures about the Proverbs 51 wife and thinking “I just can’t do that!” I can’t make sure I am nicely presentable and the house is beautifully clean for when my husband gets home. Certainly I was always trying to keep the house sorted and the children presentable for his home coming but by the time all that was done I had no time (nor inclination) to put on make up and change the baby-sick dress for a nice one. The challenge is made far worse by the fact I am ill – fibromyalgia sucks the life from me, so that by the evening I am just about functioning. This is not to say I should be let off the hook of being a loving and responsible wife and mother; but it genuinely makes the process so very much harder.

 I read something Rita wrote some time ago about how some men had never had to sacrifice at all in their marriages because the wife did it all for them. Then, when she was dead he was left in a right mess, having never had to cope with difficulties or even boiling an egg before.

What about Ephesians 5 then? It’s one of those Scriptue passages that has become notorious. “Wives submit to your husbands…” is the bit that gets the most attention, and thanks to this unbalanced approach t over the years it got rejected by many women.  Let’s face it, how can a wife submit to a husband who is disobeying the next line, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church.” He loved the Church by His Passion, the pouring Himself out for her.

In home education the most common stumbling block in families seems to be that one parent will not support the idea nor process of home education. Now, I have frequently heard advice saying, the parent who wants to HE needs to wait until the other parent is on board, especially if it’s dad who is resistive. However, for some that simply isn’t a sensible or safe option. If a child is in a terrible state in school then a decision to withdraw them has to be made. Is that putting the children over the spouse? Is that breaking the command of Ephesians 5? I think it can’t be because the parents have a responsibility to the education and welbeing of the children. If a child isn’t getting an education and is in seriously detrimental situation then the parent’s duty must surely be to remove the child.

When I first started home educating I found the adjustment really hard. I wasn’t well and I had a baby and then I had to pull my son out of school and soon had my daughter home too. One HE mum on seeing how utterly exhausted I would get suggested I needed to hand over more work to my husband, She said she had read of HE families where the wife didn’t cook the meals because her life was too full of children’s needs. So the husband had to cook when he got home from work. Now, as it happens I too know of families who don’t HE where the husband cooks after work and so on, but I just couldn’t do this. While I was never going to make it as Proverbs wife I was determined that the house would be presentable and the dinner cooked when he got home. That was part of my agape for the family.

As far as I can tell the Church does not teach that the wife must put the husband over the children; this is a view coming from other Christian communities. The Church teaches that the family is a domestic church, made in the image of God. A wife and mother puts her husband and children before other people and a husband sacrifices for the wife and children before others. In doing this there should be enough love, time and support for the needs of extended family and friends to be met.

If God is kept first then the other love should follow, as St Augustine said something along the lines of ‘love God and do what you like.” He didn’t mean you can sin happily, he meant if God has His proper place in your life, you will choose to do right as He guides you.