Originally written in April 2010, near the end of our first first-grade year. Now we have finished the second first-grader’s year!
If it is true that all real education is self-education, then this almost-complete year of “First Grade” has not been such a loss as the partial and skipped and missed check boxes on the lesson plans might lead one to believe.
“Therefore, teaching, talk and tale, however lucid or fascinating, effect nothing until self-activity be set up; that is, self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.” — Charlotte Mason
We may not have gotten done all I had planned to get done, but the honest truth of it is that I never expected to get done all I planned, especially after learning I was pregnant and we would be moving. My primary goal for this year’s studies was to practice a school routine and lay foundational skills: reading, drawing, narrating, knowing a bit about the physical world and maps (geography), knowing the main story-line and people of the Old Testament, and being able to follow directions. As far as those goals go, our year has been respectable.
One thing I found was that the solid first term last summer succeeded at what I thought was too lofty a goal to even hope for: sparking interest that would lead to self-initiated learning.
In the first and second term of the year we had drawing instruction. I used Drawing with Children and taught the boys the basic elements of shape and had them do copying exercises. We also used Draw Write Now for drawing practice. The boys have always liked drawing, and they would spend hours drawing. Hans even began copying pictures from non-drawing books. And, by the third term, they were drawing so often and were increasing in skill by their own desire and effort, that I left off doing drawing during school time. As a form of narration, I began having Hans draw or copy a picture from a geography-related book he read. Both boys now draw quite well and love drawing.
Really, our nature study has been a pathetic handful of 15-20 minute sessions observing something outside and trying to describe it with words and then observing it while attempting to draw it. However, what Hans has picked up is that “studying” something means observing it carefully, and now he’ll run in occasionally from playing outside and exclaim, “Mom! Can I have my clipboard and pencil? I found a really interesting rock and I want to study it!” The first time he did this I was rather dumbfounded.
The truly educated person has only had many doors opened. He knows that life will not be long enough to follow everything through fully. — Susan Schaeffer MacAulay
Geography has been our only knowledge-subject (except Bible) for the year, and looking at the books and the plans I made, I tend to be disappointed at what I actually accomplished. However, Hans and Jaeger have both discovered that the world is big and interesting and full of very different sorts of places and people. And I have found that interest, which I thought would be hard work to kindle, is more naturally occurring than I supposed; and I have found interest kindled even in myself for things I had previously thought were dull or simply “not my thing.” But, not only do they have a sparked interest in the world, but between Geography Songs (which I can at least just turn on and have them listening even when we haven’t “done” school) and the GeoPuzzles my parents bought them for Christmas, they know a lot of country names and places and thoroughly know the continents and oceans. What they have remembered most to distinguish the different continents is what kind of animals live in each, which wasn’t even part of my plan to teach. They learned it because of their own interest and because I brought home stacks of library books each term that they at least looked through or read on their own even if I didn’t read them aloud to them.
Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire. — William Butler Yeats
Hans reads on average 2 hours a day, at a rate of something like 60 pages an hour at least. Encyclopedia Brown is a book-a-day series for him, and it takes him 2-3 days to read a Little House book or others of that size. Thankfully he has no prejudice against rereading books. I have done my best to keep him in books and to vary the type of book he reads. I read a lot when I was little but always stuck to one particular genre. I disdained animal books, didn’t care about adventure books (and any book that my brother said was good), and pretty much just read all the fluff romantic historical fiction I could get my hands on — which was a lot and still plenty to keep me in books. :) So far, so good in keeping Hans’ reading eclectic. I have also kept track of what he’s read in his own goodreads account. When we didn’t do our lessons while I was in late-pregnancy, some days Hans spent up to 5 hours a day reading — of his own accord — and so I didn’t feel so bad about missing “school.” And now Hans is becoming more and more of an interesting person to talk to, because I don’t know what he knows and he learns a lot even from the fiction he reads. I know he thinks about what he reads because in the middle of doing a chore or drawing a picture, he’ll suddenly ask how to say a particular word or ask what a particular word he read means. He has even appropriated jokes from a story and applied them with effect in conversation.
“A love of reading is an acquired taste, not an instinctive preference. The habit of reading is formed in childhood; and a child’s taste in reading is formed in the right direction or in the wrong one while he is under the influence of his parents; and they are directly responsible for the shaping and cultivating of that taste.” — H. Clay Trumbull
Wanting Books for Knowledge
Both boys love pouring over DK Eyewitness books, atlases, art books, and any other picture-heavy information book. Over the course of the year, through his reading, through the geography books I’ve brought home from the library, through conversations with his dad (such as about WWII fighter planes) and other people, Hans has discovered that there is a vast amount of fascinating things in the world and that the library has books about them. That alone makes this year a success in my mind. When he asked the other day if we could go to the library because he wanted some books about World War II, a couple days after Matt had told him a few things about biplanes, I felt like my mission really had been accomplished.
“We prefer that they [the children] should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not, – how much does the youth know when he has finished his education – but how much does he care and about how many orders of things does he care?” — Charlotte Mason
So, my self-evaluation of this school year that is nearing its finish finds my own efforts have been lacking and half-hearted, but that God is gracious and that what my children learn doesn’t depend solely on my own efforts. Praise God.