Saturday, April 26, 2014

Homeschool Planning Thoughts on the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel

At some point in the last school year I came across a suggestion to pray the Novena to Our Lady of Good Counsel before beginning to plan the next homeschool year.  The timing is excellent, as this feast day falls nicely in the mid-spring.  If I start to plan too early, I neglect the current year in my efforts to figure out the following year.  Too late and I rush through the planning process, ending up with a poorly considered or only partially fleshed out plan.  And to spend nine days in prayer before beginning such an undertaking is certainly an appropriate and helpful undertaking.

In my prayer last year, I felt like I was hearing (for lack of a better word - really, how do you describe that inner sense that you're receiving an answer to prayer, an answer that is not in words or voice, but still is coming from outside yourself, and is something you can accept or disregard through the agency of free will? Anyway...) that I shouldn't feel that I had to create my own booklist. It was not only acceptable, but in fact beneficial, for me to largely use someone else's booklist and curriculum.  I was so relieved!  No longer did I feel like I had to figure it all out myself, reviewing and planning every last book.  I decided I'd use Mater Amabilis for many areas, Connecting with History for World History, Time Travelers for US History, Classically Catholic Memory for memorywork, Montessori 3 part cards for some of the science concepts, weekly enrichment classes at a local charter...  Yes, you can laugh now.  Anyone else catch how I pluralized "booklist" and "curriculum"?  Do you like how I took a clear answer and by changing one small but critical piece, managed to completely destroy the meaning of it?

I spent some time yesterday looking over my plans for the school year and writing up my thoughts on the various materials and pieces I tried to use.  As I reviewed everything, I kept thinking, "who was this crazy woman who planned our school year, and why on earth did I let her do it?"

Thankfully, many of the pieces I abandoned after the birth of my daughter in late November.  I felt guilty about this, but I justified it by thinking I would pick them up in the spring for the third term.  However, as I moved through our new pared down schedule, I began to realize that what we were doing was sufficient in many ways.  As I read Sarah's series on Teaching from a State of Rest and Laurie Bestvater's The Living Page, I was reminded of the beauty, wisdom, and simplicity of Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education.   I remembered that several years ago I set out to be a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, not a CM-inspired, neo-classical, occasionally and vaguely Montessori-ish homeschooler.  Yes, that path might work for another family, but it wasn't the path I wanted to follow in my family.  I came across this quote and I saw more of myself in it than I care to admit.  Thankfully narration has never gone by the wayside, but still it was a little too close for comfort.
How many parents come to Miss Mason's work super excited about it all...but then soon they're creating unit studies to go with Our Island Story (forgetting narration entirely), having their child memorize chronological lists of artists and composers (forgetting music and art appreciation entirely) and keeping their children so busy with timeline cards and even living books that they rarely have time for free play outdoors or a simple nature walk? We are free to be as CM-ish as we want, more so or less so depending on our family's needs--there are lots of different ways to homeschool!  But if we expect the results Miss Mason promises, we should attempt to understand both her methods and the principles behind them.  ~  Celeste, Joyous Lessons
I also realized, in reading The Living Page, how little opportunity I was giving my children to do the work necessary to learn and understand the variety of subjects and ideas that I was placing before them.  They were becoming people (much like myself, unfortunately) who could speak vaguely about a variety of subjects but who were not doing the hard work associated with detailed comprehension.  I'm not expecting a high level of expertise - I am fully aware that I am working with children - but there is more they could assimilate and comprehend, if given the tools and opportunity to do so.

In reading Sir Walter Scott's Waverly, I came across a quote that neatly spelled out my concerns.
Alas! while he was thus permitted to read only for the gratification of his amusement, he foresaw not that he was losing for ever the opportunity of acquiring habits of firm and assiduous application, of gaining the art of controlling, directing, and concentrating the powers of his mind for earnest investigation—an art far more essential than even that intimate acquaintance with classical learning which is the primary object of study.
I intend to make these two quotes, particularly that last sentence of Celeste's, my leading thoughts as I consider and prepare for the next school year.


  1. I'm glad to have been part of your thinking, especially since your comments on my posts on The Living Page (and the book itself, of course) have really gotten me thinking as well. I love a boost of inspiration as I plan the next school year--it feels really invigorating to know that I'm moving closer and closer toward the goals I have for my kids' education...even if I still have a long way to go!

    And I am with you--school planning can really snowball, can't it? I seriously give myself plenty of time to just get on paper ALL the things I want to do and then cut it in half and save the rest in a file in Evernote to look at for another year. LOL I used to fall into this trap MUCH more often than I do now (with everything in life, really, not just homeschooling), but having a lot of kids actually cured me of this tendency, I think. I have been forced to admit that I just can't do everything and absolutely must pick and choose. My kids have saved me from any delusions of grandeur. ;)

    And wow, love that quote from Waverley! No wonder CM enjoyed Scott so much. :)

  2. Oh, and I love the idea of the Novena to Our Lady of Good Counsel. I'm going to put that on my list for next year. The timing is perfect.