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Friday, March 11, 2005

The smell of victory

[The family sits around the living room watching “"Survivor"” except for L., the youngest, who is engrossed in a computer game. “If You’'re Happy and You Know It,” becomes increasingly louder, blasting from the computer until it nearly overpowers the television.]

DAD (slightly irritated): L, how about you turn that down?

L (nonchalantly, eyes never leaving the screen): How about you turn that UP?

(Stunned silence and then snorts as the rest of the family stifles laughter.)


The girls made me a deal this afternoon. All unfinished schoolwork could be put off until tomorrow if they would each eat one slice of the Limburger cheese their father had brought home (I don'’t know why he did such a thing. Why would anyone do such a thing?) Everyone knows Limburger cheese stinks, but do you know how badly it stinks? It is appallingly bad. It is so bad you can’'t believe it really is that bad, so you go back for another whiff and then instantly regret it. Like the pain of childbirth. There was a five minute time limit from when I cut the cheese, and believe me, now I know where that little euphemism comes from, to when it had to be completely consumed. They were both able to get it into their mouths, even chewing a little, but then I mentioned the similarity between the smell of the cheese and soiled underpants. They'’re presently finishing up their Latin.


Sarah made a good point the other day reminding us not to teach to cover the material, or grade level, or schedule, but to teach to the child, for the child. (Sarah often makes good points, it wasn't just some fluke the other day. On those days when she is not enlightening me, she is making me laugh.)

I have the “"We're falling behind"” doubts on occasion too. Being on the uptight side though, I simply couldn't let go completely of the idea of schedules or grade levels, so I did the next best thing. To curb this disturbing perfectionism, this gnawing unease that we are not where we should be, I created a timewarp of sorts, altering the prefabricated schedules to fit my family instead of banishing them entirely. I devised a plan to skip levels, initially for math, but now being planned for next year's grammar as well. Instead of trying to cram one entire book into a regimented, arbitrarily designated school term, or even over the course of an entire year, I opted to get the book one level ahead of where they might normally be and take two years to complete it, going over the material at our turtle-like pace and in greater depth. In two years time they will have certainly mastered the material thanks to the spiral approach and, voila, we will still be right on (someone's arbitrarily dictated) track! This worked for math because we use Saxon. Saxon uses the spiral approach which constantly reviews material previously learned and teaches new material in very small increments. By skipping a book, you are not missing any new material. The constant repetition and review is what my kids need to make things stick.

I was sweating a little about English next year. I am gung-ho on using Classical Writing with its progymnasmata format, but trying to work Harvey'’s English Grammar lessons into the writing lesson was daunting. I am very happy with Rod & Staff. The oral review questions, lesson explanations, oral and written work, and more review work perfectly for my daughters. They need to constantly review some of the older concepts to keep them fresh. Rod & Staff also works perfectly for me. Everything is laid out in the Teacher's Manual. Going through Harvey'’s would require me to incorporate the lesson into the writing while determining which important concepts to review on my own and I’'m just not confident enough to do that.

So, following Sarah'’s advice not to get too caught up in the material’s' recommended levels, but to use what works for the child, I am going to add that I will also suggest using whatever works best for the teacher as well. After all, this is a big learning experience for me too. Sounds so obvious, doesn'’t it? But I really had a quandary when I decided on Classical Writing. It wasn'’t the authors'’ fault, they recommend Harvey's because they feel it is the most complete English grammar around but also recommend adapting the program to whatever suits your particular need. It was just my perfectionism in wanting to do the program exactly right, even though there are plainly so many options. It looks like next year we'’ll continue to use Rod & Staff for grammar, jumping ahead a level, taking our time, and skipping their writing lessons in favor of Classical Writing. I won'’t get all stressed either about the fact that our grammar lesson may not mesh perfectly with our writing program. It works for me.

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