Thinking About Next Year

I had an idea last week. No, I had an Idea last week. The first glow has worn off, though, and I’m trying to consider whether it is truly a good one or not.

What I’m thinking of doing is spending next year (2009-2010) doing a series of units on various countries with D1 and D2. (Hmm, it already looks less shiny in print.) They’ll be 5 and 4.

Here are the arguments against:

1. I really don’t believe in formal lessons for children under 6. Cardinal Charlotte Mason rule! DOB asks, "Why 6?" and I concede that this is just an average based on overall development and undoubtedly some children are ready sooner. But I also notice that every mother thinks her children are the exception. The ducklings are quite bright, but they’re not child prodigies and they are (as documented here) learning an amazing amount without any plotting on my part at all. So why mess with what’s working?

2. I don’t like unit studies. At least, I don’t like the contrived connections that are often associated with unit studies.

3. I can’t stand those insipid multicultural holiday lessons that are now obligatory kindergarten fare, teaching us that all people deep down are the same in that they like to dress up and overeat. One thing we would learn if we really tried to understand other cultures is that they all are more interested in teaching their children their own culture than other people’s.

So, back to the reasons that made the idea bright and shiny in the first place:

1. D1 and D2 love talking about travel. Imaginary trips to Taiwan, India, and California form a major part of their play. The idea was sparked by D1’s request to know what people ate in India. They also love cooking (or pretending to cook) and dressing up. Reading about various countries, making a few dishes and perhaps coming up with costumes would be right up their alley.

2. D1 has been begging me to do school for some time. I have promised her we will do school at least a few days a week next year. Admittedly, her ideas on school are vague: When I asked what she wanted to learn at school, she came up with a list covering everything from "opening the windows" to "climbing onto the fridge to get down D2’s snack." So I could foist absolutely anything off on her and call it "school." Of course, she might be more savvy by next year.

3. It’s not really going to be formal. Reading stories, doing an occasional craft, cooking together; we already do all those things. It’s more that our informal activities will follow a sequence and a plan and I’ll be better prepared. If D1 seems ready for it I’ll toss in a little phonics and writing instruction and call it good.

4. It’s not going to be contrived. We’ll only study things that naturally flow together. We don’t have to hit every subject yet anyway. So if science or math or whatever come up naturally from the books we read, more power to them. If not, we can ignore them.

5. I’m not going to be teaching a vague sort of cultural equivalency. We’ll enjoy stories from or about different countries, but we’ll also be talking about missionaries in those countries. (Thus implying–gasp!–that we don’t think all religions are equal.)

And on the other hand again:

1. Will I be spoiling their fun by making lessons out of it? I have been a homeschooled kid, and so I know all too well how powerful the homeschooling mother’s instinct is to destroy all the fun in a thing by turning it into an educational opportunity.

2. If I really believe children should start by learning their own culture, shouldn’t I start there?

3. Lesson planning is like crack for me. Am I really doing this for my fun or theirs? Will I get too entranced with my own plans and not be sensitive to when I’m pushing too much?

4. I THINK life will be a little less hectic next year, but am I keeping in mind that I will have two toddlers? I generally find young toddlers harder to take care of than newborns.

Well, for now I’m going to continue with making my plans. It’s addicting. And I can always ditch them if they won’t work next year. One benefit to the "Oooh! Shiny new idea!" personality is that there are always new shiny new ideas and thus one never gets too attached to the old ones.

The general plan will be to choose countries for which we have good books to read and/or personal contacts. We’ll read a story or two and look at some books with pictures of the country itself. (And there’s always Earth Album.) We will, of course, look at a map and probably print one out and color one. (We love maps!) If we know someone who’s spent a lot of time in that country, we can ask them to tell us about it. If we know missionaries in that country, we will read their prayer letters and pray for them.

Then, if possible and interested, we’ll prepare a meal from the country and perhaps do a related craft; or we could just cut and paste pictures of that country into a little book. (DOB could help with this plan by taking me out to eat at appropriate ethnic restaurants in advance. I’m just saying. It’s good for dads to be involved.)

If I decide to do handwriting instruction with D1 (likely anyway, as she can already print most capital letters and loves tracing letters), she can label a map with the country name and short things like that.

I don’t figure on spending more than an hour on two or three days in the week. (Well, cooking might take longer, but we have to eat anyway.)

If I keep my focus on supplying them with new ideas and materials and let them run with them or not as it suits them, I should be able to avoid being the maternal killjoy.

Speaking of shiny, check out these cool squidoo lenses on geography: General, China, Japan, Mexico.

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