Archive for the ‘Catholic Homeschooling’ category

HomeSchooling at the Speed of Life by Marilyn Rockett

December 27, 2008

Rockett, Marilyn. HomeSchooling at the Speed of Life: Balancing Home, School, and Family in the Real World. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2007. (PB: 9780805444858)

This book is much less about homeschooling per se than it is about maintaining one’s sanity while trying to take care of all the rest of what author Marilyn Rockett calls “the dailiness of life” while homeschooling. Nothing wrong with that. Most mothers struggle with balance on some level or another, and homeschooling mothers have some challenges other mothers they know might not—teaching long division, for instance, or fretting over their child’s seemingly inexplicable inability to learn how to read. Rockett comes from a Christian perspective, using her first chapter to connect God’s plans to orderliness in a family’s life. From there, she moves into chapters on dealing with clutter, dealing with paper, the importance of teaching children domestic skills, record keeping, and the like. Throughout, she includes quotes from the Bible as well as quotes from other writers. Chapters conclude with questions to help the reader discover areas of personal weakness and strategies for overcoming them as well as a few devotionals for inspiration. A CD-ROM that comes with the book includes numerous printable organizational aids.

Rockett is, without a doubt, a skilled and practiced organizer. She writes very specifically to Christian homeschooling mothers, but her advice is realistic and solid for anyone looking to get a little more organized. That said, the book is probably not going to connect with homeschooling fathers, non-Christian homeschoolers, and even some Christian homeschoolers who would prefer something with a lighter touch. It may, however, appeal to Christian mothers who aren’t homeschooling, since even non-homeschooling mothers still have plenty of school-related things to deal with on a daily basis. The book will appeal to the same audience that enjoys books by the likes of Carol Barnier and Christine M. Field. Recommended for mid-to-large library collections in communities with strong Christian homeschooling populations.

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For the Love of Literature by Maureen Wittmann

January 6, 2008

For the Love of LiteratureWittmann, Maureen. For the Love of Literature: Teaching Core Subjects with Literature. La Grange, KY: Ecce Homo Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-9797609-9-7. (Available from Ecce Homo Press and Amazon.)

I know Maureen through cyberspace. I put her on my blogroll early in the process of researching and writing Helping Homeschoolers in the Library. I interviewed her here, and she’s also profiled in my book. One of the things I most enjoy about Maureen is that she is a READER who knows libraries and literature well. Among her many other activities, she moderates a Yahoo discussion group called Homeschool Library Connection that is devoted to encouraging homeschoolers to be proactive library users and gives excellent, realistic guidelines for homeschoolers who would like to submit titles for the library to consider purchasing.

Maureen’s passion for homeschooling, literature, libraries, and her faith are all on display in her new book, For the Love of Literature. The goal of the book is to provide homeschoolers who would like to incorporate literature–as Maureen and Charlotte Mason might say, “real books”–into their children’s studies. As such, the bulk of the book is devoted to literary guides broken down by subject: “Art and Music Appreciation,” “Math”, “History,” “Science,” and “Books about Books.” Each section includes books that can be tied into subject areas along with annotations and recommended age/grade levels. To make the guides even more useful, Maureen has organized the art and history sections chronologically, and she has subdivided the math and science sections by topic. Any youth services librarian who browses the lists will see a great number of library staples–for example, math books by Mitsumasa Anno, D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, biographies by Demi, and the Magic School Bus series. Librarians will also find less familiar books by some smaller, specialty Catholic presses–books about famous missionaries, for instance, and series about the saints.

In addition to the literature guides, Maureen has chapters devoted to using the library, building a home library, the value of reading aloud, information about teaching from a classical or Charlotte Mason perspective, and how to create unit studies. She encourages homeschoolers to get to know libraries with a summary of the Dewey Decimal System and information about what one can and can’t expect from a public library. She acknowledges, for example, that libraries can’t get titles that are out of print and that librarians will be most interested in purchasing materials they know will circulate. She talks about how the library ELF can help homeschoolers keep track of heavy borrowing and how LibraryThing can help homeschoolers organize and track their own libraries at home.

This book will be useful to libraries for a lot of reasons. Catholic homeschoolers are one of the fastest-growing segments of the homeschooling population, and there aren’t a great number of books that address their particular homeschooling needs. This is also a book that will prove useful beyond its originally intended audience. Teachers and librarians at parochial schools may find it useful when looking for materials to supplement their institutional curriculums. Open-minded homeschoolers of many faiths will find useful titles within these pages, and this is a book librarians can use to identify alternate selections from a homeschooling perspective when patrons are looking for books that the library can’t provide. Because Maureen made an effort to include titles that were in print when the book went to press, it can also serve as a collection development tool. Highly recommended.

Creative Communications by Sandra Garant

January 14, 2007

“Most of us should be able to find enough reasonable motivation to write or use other communication skills every day. We all have responsibilities we need to remember, relationships we want to keep, problems we ought to resolve, interests we would like to explore, and celebrations in which we enjoy participating. These are meaningful and therefore motivating opportunities for writing, speaking, and drawing.”
-Sandra Garant in Creative Communications: Thirty Writing, Speaking, and Drawing Projects for Homeschoolers

This book is written with Catholic homeschoolers in mind, but it contains ideas that have applications far beyond its intended audience. I first read about Creative Communications in Cathy Duffy’s 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. I had a little trouble getting a copy for the library’s collection, but I’m glad I went through the extra effort. Garant’s philosophy is that the best way to teach writing is through emphasizing writing’s practical everyday uses: making lists, sending letters, designing signs, and the like. She encourages creativity and shows how activities like storytelling and scrapbooking build writing skills. The book is divided into five sections: “Writing Games,” “Pre-writing Activities,” “Short Projects for Ready Writers,” “Advanced Projects for Real Writers,” and “Additional Information.” While Garant’s Catholic faith is evident in some of the activities and examples, her activities would be useful to any number of homeschoolers, classroom teachers, and parents who want to encourage writing – no matter what their faith. Even though some readers will be turned off by the Catholic perspective, many more will either welcome it or look past it. Garant’s straightforward and concise writing style makes the book user-friendly and unintimidating. As a librarian, I love Garant’s frequent suggestions for using public libraries. She suggests getting materials there more than once (even providing call number sections one might want to browse to find particular types of books), and she suggests a number of projects homeschoolers might do in conjunction with their local libraries, such as presenting programs and creating displays. Because the book is geared toward a niche market, it might be best-suited for larger collections, although a little extra promotion will surely have it circulating beyond Catholic homeschoolers.

Interview with Maureen Wittmann, Part 7

January 8, 2007

Adrienne: One last question for you. How did you get into writing about homeschooling?

Maureen: It just kind of happened.

As a kid, I wanted to be an investigative reporter. However, I was told by more than one school counselor to get my head out of the clouds and get real. They never read anything I’d written – that didn’t matter. What mattered to them was that there were more graduates with journalism degrees than there were jobs. My career took a completely different route and writing got sidetracked.

(As a side note: Four years ago I started a teen writing club for this reason. The club is designed to help high school students who want to make writing their life’s work. I believe in encouraging children to explore their dreams and to strive for excellence.)

In the 80’s I volunteered to publish a bimonthly newsletter for a nonprofit organization. My only qualification was that I owned a home computer – not very common in those days. I learned a lot and enjoyed it immensely.

When I started formal homeschooling, I began to think about how I could apply my desktop publishing experience and my writing skills to help the homeschooling community. I asked my friend Rachel Mackson if she would like to publish a homeschool newsletter with me. Rachel very wisely pointed out that a newsletter requires a regular commitment. With small children there would always be the possibility of a wrench thrown into our publishing schedule. Rachel suggested writing a book together instead as it would be a one-time commitment.

There was one problem. Being new to homeschooling, I was uncomfortable telling other parents how to homeschool. I suggested we put together a compendium instead. It was a perfect match. Rachel set to work recruiting friends to write for us, while I worked at editing. At first, we self-published A Catholic Homeschool Treasury. It was a lot of hard work that bore few fruits. When Ignatius Press picked up the book we were ecstatic!

However, putting together a book isn’t even half the work. An author must work hard to promote her book if anyone is going to read it. One way to do that is to get speaking engagements. I humbled myself and wrote to organizers to ask if I could speak at their conferences. Another way to market your book is to get articles published in periodicals popular with your reading audience. I began sending queries to various homeschooling and Catholic magazines. It wasn’t long before I was getting published.

It’s been nine years since that first book went to print and, I have to say, writing for the homeschool market has been a great blessing. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with other writers and editors, to meet homeschoolers from all over the country, and to learn a great deal about my vocation as a homeschooling mother.

Adrienne: Before I let you go, would you like to tell us a little about your forthcoming book? I, for one, am very excited about it.

Maureen: I’m excited too! For the Love of Literature is many years in the making and I’m so happy to have it with the publisher. (It’ll still be a few months before it’s available.) It’s a book designed to help parents use literature in their homeschools. Though it could be used by any homeschooling parent, it does have a Catholic ethos to it since I’m Catholic.

When I began homeschooling, I decided early on to concentrate heavily on real books, using textbooks and workbooks only as supplemental material. Over the years, I kept track of the books I used, making notes on what worked and what didn’t. It wasn’t long before I had a pretty extensive reading list.

I pulled the list together into a booklet to accompany a conference talk I give on teaching core subjects through literature. I was surprised how popular the booklet became even though I didn’t promote it. I gave one to my friend, and writing mentor, Mike Aquilina and he encouraged me to pull it into a full blown book. (Mike wrote the Foreword.) Then Joan Stromberg, Ecce Homo publisher, approached me at a conference and suggested I write it for Ecce Homo. How could I resist?

The reading list in For the Love of Literature contains just over 950 books. Each book has a short description and is coded for reading level. The books are broken down by subject matter (music, art, science, math, and history). I tried to arrange the list so it would be easy to use by a parent teaching children of all ages.

I include chapters on using the library (your favorite chapter Adrienne!), the art of reading aloud, classical education, Charlotte Mason, literary unit studies, and more.

It’s my hope that homeschoolers will take my book and make it their book. I hope they will continue to write the book long after the publisher has put it into their hands. They should highlight the titles already on their bookshelves, make notes next to favorites, red line titles they don’t like, and write in new titles.

The making of this book has been a labor of love and it is my gift to the homeschooling community.

Interview with Maureen Wittmann, Part 6

January 7, 2007

Adrienne: To bounce to another topic, it seems to me that homeschoolers who are Catholic have been the biggest growing segment of the homeschooling population over the last five years or so and have become a more visible/vocal group. Is that your perception as well?

Maureen: It’s interesting to look at the origins of contemporary homeschooling. (If you do an Internet search, you should be able to find several articles on the topic.)

Many people assume homeschooling is a conservative Evangelical movement. However, homeschooling had a more liberal, grassroots beginning in the 1970’s by advocates of child-led learning such as John Holt. Evangelical Christians discovered homeschooling in the 1980’s because of a great dissatisfaction with public schools.

Catholics were late coming to the homeschooling table as they had their own schools. Private Catholic schools are easily accessible in most parts of the country. Many of the Catholics who were homeschooling in the 1980’s were dissatisfied with changes taking place in Catholic schools.

But then something happened. People began to discover the very real benefits of homeschooling. I began to hear parents in the 1990’s saying things such as, “Even if the very best Catholic school was next door, I’d still homeschool.” It’s during this time you start to see more people of different faiths homeschooling, as well as more people of color.

I don’t have any statistics, only anecdotal evidence. From what I’ve seen, traveling the country, speaking at conferences, and moderating several email lists, Catholic homeschooling is still growing strong while Protestant homeschooling is leveling off.

Homeschoolers are not easily pegged. We come in all shapes and sizes. All colors and creeds. We’ve gone mainstream.

Adrienne: One thing I notice about Catholic homeschoolers is that many are devoted to the ideas of classical education and/or using real books/great books. I think part of it is because so many got into homeschooling less for religious reasons but more, as you note, because they saw the benefits of homeschooling over institutionalized schooling. I wondered if you had any thoughts on this.

Maureen: Catholic homeschoolers are all over the board. We come in all shapes and sizes. But you’re right – you do see a lot more dedication to the classical model, the trivium, as it is something that has deep roots in the history of the Catholic Church. Of the eight big Catholic home study schools, four are classical.

You also see a lot Charlotte Mason advocates in Catholic homeschooling. Miss Mason was not Catholic but she borrowed a lot of her ideas from the classical model. Her promotion of real books, training of habits, dictation, and so on, are easily “baptized.”

I think, ultimately, homeschooling for us does come down to sharing the faith. Heaven, not Harvard, as they say. (Though, most of us are shooting for both.) What better way to share our religion, than to live it, side by side, with our children. Faith is better learned, and nurtured, within the family, than by an institutionalized school.

Interview with Maureen Wittmann, Part 5

January 6, 2007

Adrienne: It’s interesting, too, to be at the point where you have kids right through the range of ages. Is your oldest starting to think about things like college and career ideas? Will this be his last year of official homeschooling? (Of course, we all know that one can never *really* stop learning at home….)

Maureen: Yes, it’s definitely interesting having children in all the stages of learning. Hard sometimes, but certainly interesting!

My oldest is a high school junior. He has one more year at home before going off to college. He’s already been thinking about college and his future for some years now. He has his heart set on Franciscan University in Stuebenville, OH. He wants to major in journalism, and also philosophy or theology. He’s discerning the priesthood, but hasn’t made a definite decision. As it should be – that is the kind of life decision that requires time and much prayer.

It’s an interesting thing to watch your oldest child grow into a man. He’s no longer a little child. He’s capable of making sound life decisions on his own. Sure, he looks to me for guidance, but I trust him implicitly in making right choices. I’m not quite sure how that happened. Was I blessed with children who are naturally good or did I somehow make enough right parenting decisions to help them blossom into great kids?

So many people dread the teen years, but in all honesty I love them. (Not just as a mother, but also as one who leads a teen group.) I will go so far to say teenagers are a gift from God and we should be grateful for the time we have with them. Teens are incredibly interesting people, caught between childhood and adulthood. They are fervently seeking Truth and trying to make sense of the world around them. As their parents, we have the awesome responsibility to guide them through these years.

Adrienne: I know you’re at work on a book about teens, so I’d love to ask you to talk a little more about working with teens.

Maureen: By the time a student reaches high school they’re ready to engage in the art of expression and articulate their ideas about what they’ve learned so far.

Think about teens and telephones, or instant messaging. Teens love to chat. This is the time to engage your child in conversation. Don’t be afraid of the generation gap, your child will be happy you are interested enough in him to seek his opinions. (Just ignore the eye rolling and sighs.)

This is not the time to let our children go, but to continue to help them flower, guiding them gently. We need to challenge their thinking skills and make them defend their intellectual and religious positions. Ask them probing questions that will help them make connections and come up with their own insightful conclusions.

It is during this time we can move from simple narrative stories to challenging debates and critiques. Think about how much more interesting this is to the parent. Think about those days of reading the same picture books over and over again. Now, you have the opportunity to not only read deep works alongside your child, but to discuss them in-depth. You have not only the opportunity to teach your child, but to learn from him. How cool is that!

Science can include ethical debates such as embryonic stem cell research and cloning. Math can include looking into how the great theorems came to be discovered. History can include primary documents, looking deep into the why and how the turns of history took place. Religion can move beyond Bible facts and get into apologetics. The Early Church Fathers can be studied, looking to see how their leadership shaped the way Christians worship today.

So often, homeschoolers place their children into a site-based school when they get to the high school years. But, I think this is THE time to homeschool. It’s a great opportunity to show a child how to get to the very core of Truth. And that, in my opinion, is the end goal of an educator.

Interview with Maureen Wittmann, Part 4

January 5, 2007

Adrienne: Now for nitty-gritty questions. What does a typical day for your family look like? Do you follow a schedule? Do you have planned “school” time? Do the kids follow different schedules?

Maureen: Again, this is something that changes and evolves over time. Our schedule today is so different from our schedule eleven years ago. Then my family was small and my children were little. Today, I have seven children, ages 4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15, and 17.

I’m at the pinnacle of our homeschooling experience, with a preschooler, grade schoolers, middle schoolers, and high schoolers.

I begin planning in the summer. I sit down with each child and discuss what our goals are for the upcoming school year. We look through the homeschooling catalogs together and decide what will work best for said child (and said mother). We lay out a plan, which is tweaked after the school year begins and real life takes over.

The three older children, having been homeschooled all their lives, are pretty self-directed learners. They create their own weekly itineraries on Sunday night or Monday morning. (I have my planning forms available for free download at my website if anyone is interested, www.maureenwittmann.com.) I try to take the older kids out for breakfast or lunch once a week to go over their progress and chat about the books they’re reading.

My 11-year old, on the other hand, needs constant direct supervision to get anything done. He definitely has the Edison Trait (a.k.a. ADD or ADHD). Like Thomas Edison, he’s very smart but can’t sit still. I try to give him enough space to explore subjects on his own, but he would never do the basics (especially language arts) if I didn’t work with him one-on-one. He’s also my one reluctant reader – thank goodness for books on tape!

The 6- and 8-year olds are learning to read together. I use Orton Gillingham, a multi-sensory, phonics intense, reading program. I work with them after I get Thomas Edison engaged in something he’s happy to do on his own (science experiments, LEGO building, BOT, etc.). I also pay one of my teens to tutor the two grade schoolers and the preschooler. I’ve used this tactic for years. It frees up some of my time to help older children, the littles get some special attention, and the big kids learn from it too. Also, We take lots of breaks for outside play and exploration.

My preschooler spends most of his time just having fun being a 4-year old. He begs to “do school,” so I supply him with a kindergarten math workbook, plus give him lots of space to paint and color. He loves to go out and jump on the trampoline while the other kids are working. And, of course, there is loads of read aloud time. I often have older children read to the younger children. It gives the older kids practice and the little kids love it!

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I babysit two preschoolers for just a couple hours in the morning. This actually frees up some of my time, as they play so nicely with my preschooler. They occupy themselves very well.

Except for 8 a.m. Mass on Wednesdays and Thursdays, I don’t schedule any outside activities before 2 p.m. I’m not disciplined enough to get back on track after being gone all morning. If schoolwork isn’t done in the morning, we don’t go out in the afternoon. There is one other exception, sometimes we’ll pick up our books and go to the library for “school.”

Outside activities include shooting sports. During the school year that only means one evening meeting a week. (Summertime is a different story – 3 to 4 practices a week, plus competitions!) We also have Teen Wednesdays. This is a group I lead, with about 20 homeschooled teens. The first Wed. is Writers’ Club, second and fourth Wed. is Socrates Cafe, third Wed. is Readers’ Anonymous, and if there is a fifth Wed., we do something special. A new activity for the Wittmanns this year is Science Olympiad. The kids will compete with other kids (mostly from public and private schools) in the area of science. This is a national organization, http://www.soinc.org/.

I don’t have an hour-by-hour breakdown of each day. We’re more laid back than that. But basically, we get up in the morning, eat breakfast, get right to work, eat lunch, do some chores, the olders work on special interests, the littles play, sometimes we go out to the library or an activity, we make dinner, welcome home Daddy, and enjoy our evening together.

Adrienne: I love some of the strategies you’ve come up with to make things work – creative, positive, working with everyone’s strengths. :)

Maureen: A lot of educational reforms that have floundered in public schools, work beautifully in the homeschool. Unit studies, child-led education, each child progressing at his own rate – these are all grand ideas, but very difficult to implement in a large classroom setting. Yet, with a mother working with individual children, these pedagogical approaches can, and do, work, and often with grand results. For example, I know several unschooling families whose children went on to receive full college scholarships and do very well in their university studies.