Our daughter, Elise, will be 10 years old at the end of January, but last week began what we are calling 6th grade. I say “we are calling” it 6th grade because, in reality, she’s already doing high school- and college-level work in most subjects. But the first question adults ask your child when they are out in the world is what grade they are in, and you have to give your child some response to use in order to maintain an even keel in conversation. Small talk cannot accommodate the “we teach our daughter at the level she can realistically learn at, not the arbitrary rubric traditional schools use, where each child is subjected to the perceived performance level of the average of their national peer group, regardless of whether it puts them ahead or behind intellectually” discussion. Especially when folks are merely asking someone’s grade because, in ordinary social encounters, it’s an expedient proxy for asking a child how old she is. It’s TMI to explain that we are gradeless and cohortless.
Anyway, after great success with this method over the past two years, I have fully embraced an interdisciplinary model for designing our curriculum. This approach is somewhat common in higher education, but I don’t know any other homeschoolers who do it. For each school year, we immerse ourselves in a specific historical period. All literature, music, art, and so on are tailored to match whatever era we are exploring. Our curriculum is now heavy on primary sources and secondary sources that make extensive use of primary sources within the text.
(I have pretty much opted out of the education/homeschooling culture wars and purchasing canned curricula from any publisher. It has become a colossal waste of time at this point. It is amazing how much more responsive children are to beautiful and intelligent content rather than busywork, which is all most canned curricula are. The natural repetition of personalities, events, and ideas in my approach absolves us of the need for drills as well, but this approach is a lot more entertaining and painless for a young mind – something I appreciate far more now than when we first started homeschooling. It is a very big deal to reject the “factory” mindset of progressive education, which our society has thoroughly conditioned people to accept, even though it makes children behave like miserable, passionless automatons. /end rant)
This year, we are immersing ourselves in the Middle Ages for the first semester and the Renaissance for the second semester. We have also effectively moved to a four-day school week. (In the State of Florida, homeschoolers are not required to match their schedules to what the public schools are doing, which is truly a blessing. We homeschool year-round so our daughter does not experience learning loss from a long break. We take vacations from school work whenever we want throughout the year too. If family comes to visit for a week, we take that week off. If someone gets sick, no worries. Our schedule is what it is.) I am hoping that by the end of this project, we will have covered all of human history on every continent in serious depth – the ultimate liberal arts education.
We have subjects that we cover on Mondays and Wednesdays and subjects that we cover on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays are what we call “Friday Fun Days.” We still have educational work that we do on those days, but it is totally unstructured. Our daughter can climb the lychee tree in the backyard with a book to read, watch movies or documentaries related to our curriculum, do science experiments, build models, write a novel… Just have fun with the content on her own territory. (It’s also the day we have reserved for field trips and social gatherings so they do not distract from more demanding work.) This teaches her to work independently and helps me get my own work projects done.
Monday / Wednesday Courses:
- Poetry, Prose, and Drama
- European History (Middle Ages / Renaissance and Reformation)
- Classical Studies (biographies of important historical personalities)
- Medieval and Renaissance Music
- Medieval and Renaissance Art and Architecture
- Christian Studies II and III
- Geography II
- First Semester Unit Study – Economics, Finance, and Managing Money
Second Semester Unit Study – Politics, Law, and Forensic Science
- Physics and Engineering / Physics Lab
- Etiquette, the Decorative Arts, and Gastronomy
Our daughter asked to add Italian this year so she would have a modern foreign language on top of an ancient language from the same geographical region. In my own academic career, I studied Latin, French, Spanish, and German, but not Italian, so we are learning the language together. It has been great fun.
We are trying to include a lot of practical subjects that will help our daughter be prosperous and be able to manage a household later on in life. I have already talked about teaching economics and finance before on this blog, but we are also including a course on etiquette and cooking/entertaining. We are going to start teaching her to cook basic dishes and dishes for entertaining formally.
Over Christmas break, I was watching Paula Deen’s cooking show while doing the dishes one day. In her show, she likes to prepare a meal and deliver it to people in her community, which I think is a fantastic example to set for a child. In one episode, she took a meal of wings, chili, and desserts to the firemen who work in her neighborhood. It struck me that this would be a brilliant way to include volunteerism and hospitality in our academic year. As our daughter learns to cook, each month she could take a meal to people who serve our community. We made a long list of whom this might include (firemen, police officers, the Fish and Wildlife folks who wrangle alligators, and so on).
For extracurricular activities, she has started taking hour-long voice lessons on Fridays and her father is teaching her to play the guitar. Then on Saturdays, she has started taking fencing lessons down in Naples, which is so much cooler than I even imagined. The kids enrolled in her fencing classes are intelligent and respectful too. I think she will develop some wonderful friendships from it.
I enjoy getting back into the routine of homeschooling after a break. These are good years for our family.