Monday, February 21, 2011

New School

I have mentioned switching to a new curriculum for a while. Now that we have delved into it and gotten our hands dirty, I can’t wait to talk about it (here, and pretty much to anyone who will listen.)

Our Five in a Row experience wasn’t working for us. I am sad about this, because it really is a terrific program, and while I will probably sell off the teacher’s guides in a few years, I will definitely be keeping the copies of the books from the reading list for a long time. They are terrific books with wonderful characters, themes, and illustrations. And we are using some of the books and even some of the lessons for now when they tie into our lives and studies. For the amount of work I was putting into the unit studies, Liesl didn’t really care that much--she got fussy and didn't want to listen. Neither of my daughters minded reading the same book five days in a row, and they did get some benefit from the repetition, but that was pretty much where it ended. So I stopped using FIAR and started looking around for a better fit for our family.  And looking.  And looking.  And looking and looking and looking.

And then I (finally) found the Robinson Curriculum. One thing that caught my interest about RC was the whole “self-teaching” concept, which you can read about on their website. I thought this was perfect. On an average day, Liesl spends anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour and a half with me in violin practice. It is an understatement to say she is DONE with hands-on interaction with me after violin--and hands-on interaction is exactly what FIAR is about at her age. But she enjoys learning on her own steam. She showed an interest a few years ago in the 50 United States, so I bought and borrowed books in several different reading levels about the 50 States and handed them to her.  On her own free time, she picked up more information that I could have ever dreamed or hoped for her to do.  (It's embarrassing when your child, at the age of 4, knows all the state capitals and you do not.)  Since she loves books and currently reads somewhere around the 5th grade level,* the idea of learning from reading lots and lots of classic books sounded very appealing.

The other thing I liked about this curriculum was the “old-school” approach. Reading, writing, and math. That’s it. For centuries children learned history and science by reading “real” books about history and science. They learned and practiced penmanship by doing copywork—which also produced memorization.

And yet, RC still seemed a little “out there” for me. As much faith as I have in the way our forefathers (and foremothers) educated their children, I wanted more input on science and history than RC mentioned. There were to be no updates, since Mr. Robinson said he was finished educating his children and would move on to other things. So I delved a bit deeper, and quickly came across Accelerated Achievement, or A2 as it is called by the creator. It is pretty much the same as RC, but more organized, condensed (as in, 1 CD-ROM of material versus 22 CD-ROM’s, but with the same public-domain books and more), and also more support and promises of free upgrades should they become available. There is much more focus on integrating science and history into the lesson plans for all ages and grades.

I shelled out the meager $5 for the demo CD, and then I pretty much decided while the demo was en route to get the whole curriculum anyway (for a mere $99.) I have to admit: Cost is NOT a factor when we school--we will make anything work in our budget if it is the right thing for our kids--but the price certainly was a nice bonus.

Both RC and A2 tout themselves as Classical Education, but I’m finding that they also cross over into the Charlotte Mason Method and even a wee bit of Unschooling in there, if you want.  There is an amazing amount of flexibility in the program without creating too much work for the teacher/mom.  And without getting too detailed (I’ll be doing that in later posts), so far A2 is working terrifically for us.  I won’t lie and say it’s going perfectly (if it was, I would check my children for a pulse and/or pinch myself to wake up from the wishful dream), but the days are really going fairly smoothly when we concentrate on the 3 R’s. **  A2 is very neatly organized by grade level, but that is purely for convenience to give a starting point of where to begin--whole chunks and lessons can be skipped over without being detrimental to the learning (no “spiral” curriculum here!)  And I’m finding that Liesl, even at the tender age of 5, does a very large portion of the work by herself.  This is perfect--she sits and studies while Mom checks Facebook a thousand times gets on with her daily desk chores such as the family finances, correspondence, meal planning, and lesson plans for the following week.  I’m actually far more productive in my other daily and weekly tasks now that my daughter sits and studies on her own for a great deal of her schooling time.

So there you have it: We have switched, not only curricula but method and philosophy. The last few months have reinforced the fact that we made the right decision. We will be posting more detailed accounts of our adventures with A2. Stay tuned!
* One of my mommy brags. I admit it. I’m overly prideful of Liesl’s reading ability and enthusiasm. And I KNOW that pride is going to come back and bite me in the butt someday. But I’m so thrilled not to have to teach her the basics. One less thing to fight with her think about. Liesl taught herself to read and by the age of 3-1/2 was reading simple chapter books to herself, among other things. Ava is showing signs of picking up on reading too.

** See, I just HAD to say something, didn’t I? When I started writing this post as part of my desk chores, our school day decided to turn to yuck in the form of lousy attitudes and behavior. We have our bad days, no different than anybody else’s school, I’m sure--home, public or private. Fortunately the good days far outnumber the bad. But why did they fire up with the crummy attitude just when I was glowing with praise of how smoothly our schooling was running?!?!? Pfft. (This would be an example of the “keeping it real” mentality that I am always alluding to.)