Thursday, November 18, 2010

Time for Plan B!

It’s very interesting to me how easily even homeschool moms can get stuck in a rut. Sometimes we become so loyal to a particular method or system that we stick to it even when it’s not working.

I’m sure we’d all agree that each child is different, and many of us can point out the differences between our own children (if we have more than one child). One reason I love homeschooling is that I can customize my teaching to fit each child’s learning style. The fact that traditional schooling in a classroom cannot do that is one of the many reasons we removed our boys from that environment. I know that many other homeschool families feel the same way.

We must be sure to keep that in mind as we navigate the education of our children. It’s far too easy for Mom to find a method she likes, that works well with one or more of her children, and to stick to all its fundamentals as if they were Biblical doctrine – even when one or more children are clearly not thriving.

If I had to technically classify my “methodology” I’d have to title myself “eclectic,” because I do pull methods and curricula from several areas. That said, I am a HUGE Charlotte Mason* fan. I think her writings are brilliant, her principles overall godly, her logic sound, and her methods balanced. Two of our three boys thrive under this method of instruction…while the other has certain areas in which he struggles - mainly in language.

If you’re not familiar with the Charlotte Mason Method, one of its fundamentals for reading comprehension and language skills is the use of narration – much like in Classic Education. Well, this particular child has significant problems understanding, processing, and retaining what sometimes seems like almost everything he hears or reads. Without going into too much detail I can sum up the matter by saying that narration has been a MAJOR frustration for both him and I. I knew after over a year of struggling that I had to find another method to use with him to exercise these language skills. My “pet” method simply was not working.

I had to find a way to give my son the desire and motivation to play closer attention to what he reads, and to willingly go back and look in the book on his own to search for information he missed. Book projects to the rescue! I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of them before – I have done a few myself in the past. For this particular child, book projects have been the ticket to sparking his interest and causing him to exercise his “reading comprehension muscle.”

A book project is in some ways similar to narration and to a book report – but much more fun & engaging. Actually both narration and a traditional book report are on our official “book project list,” they’re just not nearly as creative. We have a long list of “Mommy-approved options;” I’ll just describe a few of them here to get your motor running (if anyone would like a copy of our list, just shoot me an email and I’ll gladly send it to you).

Map Project – Create a map (to scale if possible) of the setting. Include terrain, locations of events, homes of characters, and anything else significant from the book. Include a map key/legend. (Mom can make a list of items that must be present on the map – make it age appropriate)

Map Book Project - "Archimedes and the Door of Science" by Jeane Bendick

Map Book Project - "The Wright Brothers" by Quentin Reynolds

Illustrate – Using the medium of your choice draw or paint your favorite scene from the book. Include as much detail as possible. (Again, Mom can list details that must be present in order to accurately depict the scene)

Illustration Book Project - "Mr Popper's Penguins" by Richard and Florence Atwater

Crossword Puzzle – Choose 10-20 vocabulary words from the book, and create a crossword puzzle with them using simple definitions for clues (This is a great way to solidify facts learned in "living" history books!)

Crossword Book Project - "Augustus Caesar's World" by Genevieve Foster

These are just a few of the projects we’ve done (Please forgive the cut-off images; in those cases my scanner is not large enough to scan the entire project). Other projects have included interviews with the characters, constructing an item from the story, becoming a character and writing about what you would do differently in his/her shoes, and many other activities. 

I still use narration for daily readings a good deal of the time, but all 3 boys really enjoy having a book project to work on once every couple weeks. 

Since I began incorporating book projects, my son's reading comprehension has noticeably improved. I am looking forward to seeing even more improvement in the months to come. 

Sometimes it works out beautifully to embrace Plan B!

*If you're unfamiliar with the Charlotte Mason school method, you can read more about it here . A very good book to read about it, if you want to dig deeper, is actually a modern summary of Charlotte's own 6 volume series on education. Or you can read the entire original series for free online.

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