Thursday, April 11, 2013

These Pictures Aren't Fake

 Such delicious homeschooling is happening thanks to my mother.  Mum has been taking my kids' education in hand and I've been eavesdropping to learn her tricks. It's so great.

The biggest revelation so far is the great missing link in learning to write: tracing. Lots of it, piles of it.

I'm good with the math. I love all the literature and nature study and art that just kind of evolves out of the seasons, liturgy, or whatever interest is de rigeur with the kids.

But teaching writing stresses me out. How did I learn to write? I don't remember.

tracing—piles of tracing—really helped William with speed and confidence
My kids are full of verbal acumen, stories and jokes and poems. They're managing alright, if slowly, to put letters together to spell simple words. Well and good. (We've also done a fair amount of dictation, especially for letters and nature journals: they tell me what to write, I write. It's great for reinforcing the whole brain-to-paper thing and loosening up their natural powers of expression.) But when I sit down to get them writing on their own, they panic. Or I panic. We all panic, and get stressed out and the kids drop their pencils, and then go looking for their pencils, and escape out the back door...

The fact is, I get overwhelmed by the stupidness of English spelling and I get mad because they (Willy) can't write fast enough.

illustrations for Bucephalus

So how do you go from basic phonics to writing confidently? My Mum has been practicing a simple—and natural—middle step. William dictates a story (his own words of course). She writes it in pencil. He traces in pen. It sounds too simple, but it's working! His hand is loosening up, he's gaining speed, it's starting to flow!

This is only one piece of the writing puzzle of course. He's also writing comic books which I don't touch. (I don't want writing to be "school work" but another medium of creativity like his pencil crayons and markers.) He does a few phonics lists with grandma, and letters to friends that get corrected for spelling.
The alphabet box: Hugh and Matthias are finding little objects to match the phonetic letter. This picture isn't a fake! They really do this!
So it's all coming together.
building the little houses of straws, sticks, and bricks for the Three Little Pigs story

The most important link, the mortar for all these little bricks, is the sound of beautiful literature in their ears. We read to them every day. Right now it's The Princess and the Goblins, The Lord of the Rings (at their request. I don't approve, but Will needs no excuse to read Tolkein out loud), lots of little nursery stories....

The boys are busy finding and burying caches of quartz, map-making (in case they forget their cache locations), watching chickens, sandbox construction, comic-book illustration, and live-trap designing for the mysterious predator of Grandpa's chickens. (Three dead chickens since we've arrived. Oh my, the carnage. The drama. Did you know that weasels pin their victims down, bite them under the wing, and suck blood? And racoons decapitate. Cruel, cruel mother nature! This city girl has a lot to adapt to.)

Here's Will looking handsome as he stares into the glow of the computer screen. He's finding parallels in Divine Comedy and listening to the best of the Beatles. And may I just tell you (since he won't do it himself) that his medieval Italian has advanced so far in the past weeks that he does all his own translation for his papers? "Rigorous" his instructor called him. I knew there was a reason I married you, dear: you're "rigorous"!!


  1. What a lovely, lovely post! Thank you for my brightening my day (er, night, er, insomnia) with beautiful pictures and inspiring words. I'm really taken by this approach to homeschooling -- not so much as 'school at home' (with desks, workbooks, all the bland things I was forced into prematurely by my public school education) but a lifestyle for a family. It's something I hope to bring into our family, too!

    1. Hi Jenna, thank you so much for your comment! Yes, we've found that a slightly more intuitive approach (somewhere between Un-schooling and Charlotte Mason's short, child-friendly lesson-style) works for us. We'll probably get more rigorous after my children get reading and writing. The great thing about homeschooling is that you're not bound to any curriculum. You can borrow from here and there, wherever you find inspiration. I get a lot of inspiration from other bloggers. And pinterest of course.

  2. Oh Mary, can your Mama start a school? Seriously! I want to come over and sit and watch her brilliant way with the little ones! Thanks for the tips on dictation and tracing. I haven't done that yet and my boys aren't as keeen to try writing as my oldest (who is such a prolific writer -- even on walls!).

  3. Pictures and descriptions like these are the reason I both love the idea of homeschooling and am certain I wouldn't be able to do it. I'm not even managing to read to them everyday, though Michal usually does at night (he reads Tolkien to them too (in Slovak)- he says he might as well read something interesting.) Homeschooling here is technically legal, I think, but full of hoops to jump through. And nobody does it. Miriam starts school next September and I'm rather nervous. Grade one here is intense - parents I know spend an hour or two everyday doing homework with their grade oner. Your pictures are so idealic!

  4. Love the search and find alphabet idea... will be using that. Watch out! I'm sticking this on pinterest and you may get a flood of visitors! :-)

  5. I love this post! Beautiful and inspirational. thank you, I am doing the writing and tracing with Ianua and she LOVES it. I think Macarius will like it too, thanks again for being so wonderful!
    Love, Heather


    remember my mother using this book to teach us kids how to read.

  7. Hi. Your blog is very nice.