Archive for February, 2013

Developing a Vision for Homeschooling: My story

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

I began homeschooling twelve years ago. How did my first-born little gap-toothed guinea pig turn into a beautiful 17-year old rising senior?

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As the saying goes, “Some days have been long, but the years have been short!” Throughout the years the Lord has blessed me with mentors and a vision that has carried me through many less-than-ideal homeschooling days. As I am planning and preparing for my oldest’s last year of homeschooling, I’ve been reflecting on God’s goodness over the years and thanking Him for calling us to homeschool.

Years ago, at the beginning of my homeschooling journey, a veteran homeschooling mom and friend, Muriel, graciously accepted an invitation to speak in my home. This dear lady prayed for us and then passed around pictures of her four grown children who all happen to be within ten years of my age. Muriel began homeschooling when it was still illegal in her state. As she shared her story, I was inspired. Back in those days, curriculum offerings were practically non-existant. Most companies refused to sell to homeschoolers. It’s easy to think, “They had so little support. How did they do it?” I’m convinced that while Muriel may not have had many homeschool-specific texts, co-ops or conventions to assist her, she, and so many other pioneer homeschooling parents had something much more valuable. They had something that carried them through the hard days and the stares and the questions and the difficulties of participating in a new counter-cultural educational movement.

Muriel had vision.

And as I listened to her speak more than a decade ago, I wanted vision. I wanted it desperately but the whole concept intimidated me. How was I to answer, “What is your homeschooling vision for your family?” Really, back in those days, with five children under seven years old, I could hardly think past “When is nap time?” Nonetheless, I began to pray for something that would get me through the hard days; something bigger than the curriculum I chose or the conflict-resolution strategy of the day.

While I was an elementary education major, I had never read extensively about home education. Terms like “Classical,” “unit study,” “Charlotte Mason,” and “un-schooling” seemed odd. Don’t all children learn in a desk and with a teacher using a textbook? I began to read every homeschool philosophy book I could get my hands on. I read The Well Trained Mind, and books by Raymond and Dorothy Moore who are credited with being the founders of the modern homeschooling movement. I read The Christian Home School by Gregg Harris and For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macauley. Teaching the Wholehearted Child by Sally Clarkson definitely inspired me. The Underground History of American Education and Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto, a New York Teacher of the Year recipient, opened my eyes to the state of public education. Books by Ruth Beechick gave me an overall plan for language and math development in the early years while books by Douglas Wilson and Dorothy Sayers provided an understanding of classical education and teaching to developmental stages.

In addition to reading, I attended my state’s homeschool convention for many years in a row. Unlike many attendees, I didn’t really go to shop for books. I love curriculum and could spend hours pouring over grammar texts, but in those early years of homeschooling, I attended conferences to learn from veteran home educators. I attended sessions by speakers such as Michael and Vicky Farris, Gregg Harris, Sally Clarkson, Scott and Marcia Somerville, Hal and Melanie Young as well as many local teachers.

These authors and speakers certainly influenced me as did many dear friends ahead of me in their homeschooling journeys. I’ll never forget approaching a dear mom at church one day after a service and basically pleading with her to be my friend. She had six beautiful children who listened attentively to the sermon and exhibited the finest of manners while I stole their mommy’s attention for an unreasonable amount of time between services. This sweet mom invited me to her home. Years later, she is still a dear friend I know I can call. In the early years of my homeschooling, I just wanted her to share her wisdom with me. I’m so grateful for her as well as several other dear friends who were willing to encourage me.

So, did all this study help me to develop a plan? Could I map the course of our homeschooling for the next several years? Did I pinpoint my homeschool philosophy? Did I “get it all together?”

No. However, as my husband and I prayed and daily sought to disciple and educate our children, our desire to home-educate became a passion. It became a calling. It became a commitment. We decided that our precious children God gave us, who only would live with us a short while, deserved our whole-hearted efforts. Deuteronomy 6:7 states:

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Homeschooling became a tool to help us “teach them diligently.” Our desire became and continues to be to raise our children to love Jesus and follow hard after Christ. We want them to articulate well and think critically through a Biblical worldview. We pray that our children will teach their children and one day, when we are old, we will be blessed by great-grandchildren who love Jesus. This desire, over time, became our passion and our vision.

This fall, as oldest daughter enters her senior year, my youngest will begin kindergarten. Thus, I’m nearly at the half-way point of my homeschooling. As I reflect over the past twelve years of this journey, I’m reminded of another bit of advice from my friend Muriel. As she met with me and the new homeschooling mothers in my home, she encouraged us to give each homeschooling day to God. “Have a plan, but trust Him,” she said. “Sometimes your plans will be hijacked, but at the end of the day, assure yourself that while you many not have completed your list, you did exactly what God had for you.”

It’s easy to become discouraged when our plans fall through. No doubt, we will have good homeschooling days and difficult ones. There will even be some years that are more academic than others. As with life, there will be valleys and mountaintops; laughter and pain. We will make mistakes. We will likely find that as we strive to educate our children, God educates us. Our job is to put one foot in front of the other and look upward.

Are you new to homeschooling? Do you desire vision? What are your goals for your family 5 years, 10 years or 40 years from now?    Have you been at homeschooling awhile and wonder if it’s worth the effort? Dear sister, may I encourage you to pray, read, seek mentors and look to Jesus? If God has called you to homeschool, he will equip you in every way.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Our children in 2003, our 3rd year of homeschooling.

Our children, Christmas 2003, our third year of homeschooling.

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Our family, fall of 2012. By God’s grace, we continue to put one foot in front of the other and look upward.

 

 

 

 

Q and A: Starting a Tapestry of Grace Co-op

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

This is a post for my Tapestry of Grace (ToG) friends all over the country who are interested in starting a co-op using this rich curriculum. When my friends and I began our co-op it was difficult to find information on how to start. I googled Tapestry of Grace co-ops and wrote every leader I could with questions. Thankfully, I found a couple of sweet souls willing to correspond by e-mail. I asked one leader if I and our core-team could come visit. We desperately wanted to see a co-op in action! Unfortunately for us, we were unable to do so. Though we lacked the information we desired, our team “got to planning” and two years later, we are so blessed by our thriving group. I hope this post (and subsequent posts, if needed) may make the process a little easier for some of you. Grab a cup of tea and feel free to peek at what we do through my Tapestry posts (in sidebar.) Leave your questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Be sure to visit Marcia Somerville’s co-op information. This is a great starting point. Our first year schedule and rules and regulations are uploaded there as well as documents from other Tapestry groups.

Without further ado, here are the first 10 questions I’ve been asked about our co-op:

1. Why did you begin a Tapestry of Grace co-op?

I love ToG and, before starting our co-op, had used it at home for five years. For basic information about Tapestry, please read my posts about its benefits for various levels. It is, in my opinion, the most family-friendly, comprehensive, flexible curriculum on the market. Foundational to its use are Socratic discussions. Students learn by reading. However, discussing themes, ideas, and worldview takes learning to a much higher level. Until my children were in high school, I held most discussions through read-aloud time or casually over our lunch break. I desired more for the high school years. However, because I also had a four children in the dialectic and grammar stages, I knew I could not set aside the 4+ hours a week for these discussions.

Two of my friends, also ToG users, were in the same predicament. We did not want to abandon our curriculum in favor of paid high school classes at another co-op for several reasons. The classes, while reasonable, were about $500/year per class. Also, none of us had drivers which meant the twice-a-week commitment for our older children would take us away from homeschooling our younger ones. We felt strongly that if we pooled our resources (time and talent), we could put together a dynamic discussion group for our rhetoric students using the curriculum we owned.

2. How did the idea transpire to a co-op?

First of all, we prayed about it for several months. There were four of us. Three of us used Tapestry already. We decided to start with just a Dialectic/Rhetoric-level group in a home if that is what the Lord wanted for us. However, as we talked and prayed, we felt strongly that we all preferred our weekly meeting time to benefit all of our children. So, we brainstormed a few other families that might want to join and contacted them personally. We targeted rhetoric and dialectic-level families who also had younger children. Without advertising, we pretty quickly acquired twelve interested families. With these twelve families, we had 36 children which gave us 5-8 in each level – preschool, lower grammar, upper grammar, dialectic and rhetoric.

3. When, where and how often do you meet? 

Once we knew we had enough families to begin a co-op, we prayerfully approached our church staff and graciously were given permission to meet on Mondays from 8:30-1:30. This was the only day available, so we took it!

4. How did you decide what year plan to use?

Three out of four of our “core team” ladies had used Tapestry for several years. Two of them were beginning Year 1. So, the beginning seemed like a very good place to start. 🙂

5. How are your age groups broken down?

The first year, we had 4, 5 and some 6 year olds in a pre-k/k group; 1st-3rd graders in lower grammar; 4th-6th in upper grammar; 7th-8th in dialectic and 9th-12th in rhetoric. This year, we do not have a preschool. We have a K-1 (lower grammar), 2-3 (lower grammar), 4-5 (upper grammar), 6 (dialectic), 7-8 (dialectic) and 9-12(rhetoric). Next year we will have a preschool. We also plan to separate 9th grade for a hybrid class (rhetoric lit and dialectic history).

6. How do you decide who teaches each class and how are the teachers compensated?

Teachers are not compensated. Each participant must stay the whole day, lead-teach at least one class, assist at least one class and, if needed, additional classes. We determine who teaches each class via Surveymonkey. So far, each teacher has been able to teach where she/he feels most interested/competent. Each class has at least one assistant. If a teacher can’t be at co-op, she makes arrangements with her assistant.

7. Do you only use ToG or do you use other curriculum as well?

At the rhetoric level, we only use ToG. Rhetorics discuss literature (1.5 hours) History/Church History/Geography (2 hours), Philosophy (45 min) and Government (45 minutes). That is all they have time to do in our 5-hour day. Dialectics have a little more time, so they have a science class. Upper Grammars have ToG art and science as well as literature, history, geography and lapbooks. Lower grammars listen to Story of the World, take turns reading ToG literature aloud, have a PE time and do lapbooks and science. K/1’s have a music class, science, art, story time, phonics time and Story of the World time. We have used both Apologia and Elemental Science. Elemental Science has been a huge hit for our lower grammar students and we are considering using it for all classes 8th grade and under next year.

Basically, the younger the class, the more time there is in our co-op day for additional classes.

8. Do you use ToG writing?

Absolutely.

Last year I worked two conferences in the ToG booth, and was frequently asked this question. Moms particularly wanted my opinion about Tapestry writing compared to theme-based IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing). I am a certified IEW instructor, and I like IEW products. However, I am a huge proponent of ToG writing assignments. We ask all our members to purchase Writing Aids.  Part of the beauty of Tapestry is the multi-faceted learning of which writing is a vital part. Writing about the history and literature solidifies many themes for students. I recommend that moms watch Teaching Writing With Structure and Style videos (an IEW resource) to help them learn key elements of the writing process and gain confidence in teaching. However, it is not necessary nor do I recommend that ToG’s writing assignments be abandoned for another program. Writing Aides contains excellent notes for the teacher, graphic organizers, and grading rubriks. The writing assignments help solidify key concepts of the curriculum. You will want to study grammar. You may want to spend a good semester teaching essay components or supplementing where you see areas of weakness with your student. However, Writing Aids and ToG assignments are excellent. We’ve had great success using them.

9.  How many members of your co-op used Tapestry before joining?

Of our 12 families the first year, 5 used it previously. Only two of the families were on the same year plan. However, those not on Year 1 were willing to adjust for the sake of the co-op.  The second year 11 families returned and 13 families joined. To my knowledge, all our new families had never used ToG. I am very excited about next year because we will have 22 out of 30-ish families with at least one year of Tapestry use under their belts! Exciting!

10. How do you teach moms to use the curriculum?

This is an ongoing process. We begin by requiring interested families to download the free three-week plan from Tapestry, study the website and watch the introductory videos. They then meet with a core-team member. We show them a week’s plan. We show them student notebooks. We answer their questions. The beauty of our co-op is each member contributes something. Thus no one has to do it all. “Many hands make work light” is very true of what we do. Moms are motivated to invest time in learning the curriculum but they do not have to “have it all together” to get started. We require SAPacks (and soon the Map and EvalPacks.) We share ideas during “free” periods at our co-op day. We have a Yahoo forum where we encourage one another as well. There is still a little ToG fog. However, because we meet on a weekly basis, there is regular opportunity for encouragement and mentoring.

… And there you have it. If you have further questions, please ask away in the comments and I’ll happily answer them in another post.