Friday, March 18, 2011

The Well-Trained Mind

Last night I did a foolish thing. I thought the baby would eat at 10:00 pm (three hours after her last feeding), so I ran a bath and soaked happily with a book until almost 10, when I got out and got ready for bed. And waited for baby to wake up. To keep myself occupied while waiting since I knew it would be any minute, and falling asleep only to wake up ten minutes later is the worst, I took notes on the first 60 pages of the book I was reading in the tub.

She didn't wake up until almost midnight. I'm so tired. WHY DIDN'T I GO TO BED WHEN I HAD THE CHANCE??? Sigh.

But--I'm totally in love with the book--The Well-Trained Mind, as you already guessed from the title of this post. I'm sure Kelly and Julia are aghast that I haven't read it before as it is the Bible of homeschool literature. The reason is simple--I didn't go into homeschooling worried that I wouldn't be able to do it (although that worries me a little now :)) so I didn't feel compelled to read everything that homeschoolers all read.

I should have read this.

First, I love that it is a practical guide divided into age groups and subject matter. The fantastic organization makes it very useful as a reference book. What are some good grammar books for an 8 year old? Oh, I'll turn to the 8 year old section and look it up. Obviously, you don't have to use all their recommendations, but what a great starting point. I only read 60 pages and much of that was introduction, but I have a spelling book and grammar book written down in my notes that I want to look into before picking curriculum for next year. I like tried and true materials (which is why I read a lot of reviews on Timberdoodle and other places before purchasing anything).

Other things I love: 1) their entire approach is literacy based--also the best part of TJEd; 2) it is not child-led but it is child-centered; 3) it is ambitious; 4) it is age-appropriate.

I really like that Jessie Wise emphasizes that all parents can homeschool if they want it badly enough, regardless of their education level. I believe that. I worry about homeschoolers who don't love to read, but on the whole, I think most people of average intelligence and abilities can do a good job of it. As an educator it makes perfect sense that a much smaller teacher/student ratio is going to pay dividends. Your child might not end up as accomplished and educated as Susan Bauer, but he should be on a comparable level to public-schooled children.

I also like that there isn't a lot of philosophy mumbo-jumbo involved in their approach. At least I haven't reached any yet and hope that I do not.

I also like that it is a very useful book for non-homeschoolers. Or "friends of other educational approaches." Just kidding. Kami and Ana came to mind often as I was reading. Kami does a supplemental approach with Ana during the summer and frequently calls and asks me for curriculum advice. This book would be perfect for her to get some ideas and also a little bit of child development. (I love that Wise is an educator. I know she only taught for a few years, but she had all the child development classes and that does make a difference. Plus, I love teachers!) Kami wouldn't have to read the entire 800 page tome, just the part on 11 year olds.

I also like that Wise emphasizes that not everything can be taught and you have to pick and choose. I don't know that I agree with all her choices, but it is still a good thing that homeschoolers be reminded that there are a limited number of hours in a day.

So--what don't I like? Nothing really. There are some things with which I disagree. First, I don't think that having children read abridged versions of great books is a good idea. The Iliad, okay--it isn't that great of a book anyway. The Odyssey--okay, it is an adventure story that lends itself well to illustration. But Dickens? Wise claims that if children are familiar with a story they won't be scared to read the original. That's ridiculous. What literature loving child is going to be afraid of a book? I read Les Mis in the seventh grade. No fear here. Besides that, and most importantly, if you already know the story, why read the book? I'd much rather have my children read the really great stuff when they are ready to so they appreciate the story from the brilliant author that came up with it. In light of my view, it is funny to me that Cowen has an abridged and illustrated (about 200 page) version of The Three Musketeers that he carries around and sleeps with. They fence, after all. I've never read the book to him, but Timothy has told him most of the story line.

Also, I don't like that Wise minimizes art during the early years. I agree that an art curriculum or art appreciation isn't necessary, but I do think creating is important for children. Maybe she'll talk more in-depth concerning art later in the book. I have only scratched the surface.

In conclusion, I'm glad I'm reading this book if for no other reason that it got me thinking and excited about homeschooling next year. Since I still burst into tears when I see a full laundry basket or a sink of dishes or my children demand food, I'm cutting myself some slack and allowing my post-partum body and hormones to recuperate before jumping back into homeschooling. However, it is nice to feel excited about the coming year and have some ideas about what I want the schedule to look like and what I want different children to achieve.


For those who homeschool, some of the ideas she gave about teaching reading really made me stop and think. Miriam learned to read in 15 minutes--no joke. It was no work at all. Cowen, on the other hand, is trickier. He doesn't want to sit still, he won't look at the word--he's a "glance and guess" sort of a dude. In short, teaching him to read is more of a chore. However, the teaching reading ideas were great and got my own creative juices flowing. Since Emeline is ready to read, I thought I would take this summer and do some remedial reading with Cowen and get Emeline started. First, I'll make a checklist of the capital and lower-case letters and using a letter game on the wall to figure out which letters they recognize and which they do not. (I realized a few weeks ago that Cowen knew the sound for the letter 'n' but didn't know its name. Bad teaching on my part.)

My checklist will also have the sounds of letters. When the kids get all those checked off (and that should take a week at most--we mostly know all this stuff, it is just a double-check), I'll have them make words out of letters on the wall and find cans out of the pantry and play memory games with letters and short words.

In short, I'll make it fun. That is what is missing from Cowen's reading program right now. He can read lots of words, but it isn't fun. After playing games for a few minutes a day, he'll still have to read his reading books to me, but hopefully it won't be so much of a chore.

Other ideas I've taken from the book include a different spelling approach for Miriam. We've struggled with writing because she hates to misspell words. Sigh. I think a more intensive approach to spelling combined with copy work will help her get over the writing hump this summer and then next year, when she's in third grade, hopefully she'll be more willing to write. If not, I'll think of something!

I also love the idea of taking Miriam to the library and making her get different types of books. I created a reading group for her to force her to read a variety, but once a month is not much. This way I can take her on her own to the library (special) and she'll learn the dewey decimal system (awesome) and she will have books picked by herself (ownership) but not all Hardy Boys. We'll save the Hardy Boys (which I am actively in favor of) for free time reading. Excellent idea.

Those are the main ones. I'm going to keep posting about this book as I read so I can remember all the things I've thought about. I wrote down my practical notes in a notebook, and here are my overall thoughts. Lucky you, right?

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