In which we tackle middle school

DSC_0114Long ago, my aunt commented that I might want to use “homeschool” as a blog category rather than “preschool” because someday the children would get older. At the time, it felt like our older three kids were babies and toddlers and preschoolers for approximately 47 years. And then it seemed the younger two were only babies for around three seconds each.

Skewed time perception. It happens to the best of us (cue Simon & Garfunkel song).

Meanwhile, Hannah hit middle school like a Mack truck.

You’re thinking, “Like a Mack truck? Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?” I’m thinking, “Both.”

FullSizeRenderIn many ways, this year is a jump for Hannah, not so much because we switched curriculum (although we did) but because I moved her up into a pretty challenging level of readings. She’s ready for it, and thriving, and I’ve been really pleased overall. Every week she has a checklist so she can do most of her work independently. She chooses one assigned reading from each category on the left, and then is also responsible for what’s on the right (which is a combination of independent work, things she does with me, and things we do together with the other kids).

Every day Hannah and I have a designated hour or so when we discuss her readings, I correct her writing, and we do math and Latin. Here is what she’s up to for school. (Note: We are using Ambleside Online Year 7 with some modifications. I didn’t do Amazon links for the AO books unless I’ve already reviewed them separately.)

History & Geography (all narrated*)

  • The Birth of Britain, by Winston Churchill
  • Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle on Alfred the Great
  • Battle of Hastings, by William of Malmesbury
  • The Magna Carta
  • New Nations
  • The Brendan Voyage
  • How the Heather Looks

Historical Biography (all narrated*)

  • The Life of King Alfred, by Bishop Asser
  • Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain
  • A Heroine of France

Art History (all narrated*)

  • The Story of Painting

Literature & Historical Fiction (all narrated*)

  • Ivanhoe
  • Beowulf
  • The History of English Literature
  • The Age of Chivalry
  • A Taste of Chaucer
  • In Freedom’s Cause
  • History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea
  • The Daughter of Time
  • The Once and Future King

Poetry

  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson (selections)
  • John Keats (selections)
  • The Idylls of the King
  • The Grammar of Poetry

Government/Economics/Citizenship/Logic (all narrated*)

  • Whatever Happened to Penny Candy
  • Ourselves
  • How to Read a Book
  • The Fallacy Detective

Science (all narrated* and all experiments written up)

  • The Elements
  • The Mystery of the Periodic Table
  • The Sea Around Us
  • Eric Sloane’s Weather Book
  • First Studies of Plant Life
  • Adventures With a Microscope
  • Signs and Seasons
  • Great Astronomers
  • Lay of the Land

IMG_6973Free Reading (not narrated, but required reading)

Bible

Language

Math

Co-op (classes meet once a week)

  • Engineering
  • Literary analysis
  • Machine sewing

Other (subjects we do together with the other kids, more in a separate post)

  • More science (The Way Things Work, Apologia Chemistry and Physics)
  • Church history (Trial & Triumph)
  • Citizenship (Plutarch’s Lives)
  • Indiana state history (various historical fiction, biographies, history spine)
  • Literature (Shakespeare play per term–Richard III this fall, daily poetry, poetry memorization, family read-alouds)
  • Artist study (Durer, this term)
  • Composer study (we were doing Telemann and Corelli, but may switch to Kabalevsky)
  • Nature study (using John Muir Laws guide)
  • Piano lessons

Notes on how we do this:

  • If you wonder about the weekly checklist, I break Hannah’s readings up into categories, and she has to read one selection from each category each day–an amazing idea I took from Kathy Livingston. From those readings, she chooses one per day to write a written narration (composition) about, and has to be prepared to narrate (tell back in detail and sequence what happened in the reading and be prepared to discuss issues and themes) each of the others. Once a week, she has to put at least one second draft piece of writing into each of her serious keep-this-forever notebooks: history, literature, and science.
  • Not all books are assigned each term.
  • Yes, I’m pre-reading all of this. Mostly so I can be prepared for daily discussions, but also for my own edification and/or nostalgia!

And that’s Hannah’s sixth grade so far!

Note: This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links, but links to other websites are not affiliated. For more details on the AO booklist, please check the AO website

On Languages

Languages. I love them. I want to speak many of them. And yet, it’s hard for me to set aside the necessary time and narrow down the focus to one language to really learn it well. So, I dabble. And I let the kids dabble. I used to feel bad about that, and still think about which modern language to really drill down on with them, but I’ve mostly decided that, for now anyway, fostering passing interests in various languages and cultures is part of broadening their viewpoints and giving them a taste of the world.

learn-any-languageThat said, I do love to read about languages and the pedagogy of learning and teaching them. If you’re also interested in those topics, you should definitely read Learn Any Language by Janina Klimas.

Unlike some other language books that I ultimately found difficult to implement, I really clicked with Klimas’ approach. She advocates a strategic framework that meshes well with how I think: figure out why you want to learn your target language and what you want to do with it, be realistic about how long it’s going to take you to achieve that level of fluency, and tackle the language in a low tech but high impact way.

Klimas makes strong points about why classroom language instruction often leaves students unable to communicate after several years of study, and offers an alternative path that involves creating your own sets of necessary words and phrases for different situations (you might need a set for talking to a babysitter more than a dialogue on picking up drycleaning, or vice versa), reading, and writing in the target language daily. I think her approach to writing is particularly sound, and I wish I had known these tips when I was floundering gracelessly in my college Russian classes.

Full of helpful, concrete examples and inspiration to learn languages for a variety of applications, Learn Any Language is a great resource that I highly recommend, and will certainly return to for myself and to help the kids.

language-hacking-italianThis fall, the kids and I previewed Benny Lewis’s Language Hacking course. Jack had gotten the bug to learn Italian (possibly fueled by his gustatory preferences, but hey, you have to start somewhere) so we gave it a go. We checked out some Italian picture books and made it through the beginning lessons of the course, but ultimately found it didn’t gel well with our style. That said, the program has some significant strengths that could make it excellent for others. If you’ve read Benny’s book Fluent In Three Months, you’ll remember that he’s big on speaking from day one. So his course emphasizes creating dialogues and mastering key phrases to practice in speaking. You use the phrases to record videos of yourself speaking and share with an online community. That’s far easier and cheaper than other online tutoring options, and could get you into a good groove quickly. Since we try to minimize screen time for the kids and don’t really do a lot of things on the computer for school, the program didn’t line up too well for us, but again, could be excellent for others.

These days, our language notes include Korean, French, Italian, German, and Dutch. We play Latin card games. Hannah and I are slowly working through Visual Latin together. And we dabble on.

Have you chosen one language to focus on for yourself or your family? How did you decide which one to learn?
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Disclosure: I received review copies of both products mentioned in this post in exchange for an honest review. This post also contains affiliate links.

Mother Tongue

mother tongueIn Mother Tongue, Christine Gilbert recounts her family’s adventures while immersing themselves in three very different cultures. At first this may sound like one of those myriad “I spent a year doing thus-and-such and lo, I am changed” books, but in fact Gilbert’s memoir is thoughtful, interesting, and inspiring.

While her idea was kicked off with some research indicating being bilingual staves off dementia for an additional five years–her grandfather, who spoke Finnish and English, had recently died of Alzheimer’s and Gilbert was grateful for the last years of his life–over the course of the book you see how Gilbert and her husband are not just approaching their lives as maximizing brains-on-a-stick. Rather, they are carving out a global culture for their family.

Gilbert is not uniformly successful in her attempt to learn two level 5 languages plus Spanish and some Thai in a couple of years. Her son learns some of the languages and then seems to drop them. Geopolitical events and a new baby necessitate changes to plans. But along the way, she and her husband really lean into the family they are becoming. I was touched by how sacrificially her husband loves and cares for Gilbert, how well they work together, and how fiercely Gilbert loves her children. More than the gift of multiple mother tongues, Gilbert winds up giving her children a family culture that is admirable and inspiring.

Along the way, I learned quite a few interesting things about learning languages that will be helpful to me as I dabble and as I consider languages for my children. Reading the book really made me wish I could pick everyone up and move abroad for a while!  Having lived all over the US and in Asia and Europe growing up, it bothers me that my kids are parked in one location. But reading Mother Tongue reminded me that even though our jobs are not as mobile as the author’s and her husband’s, we can still work towards building a family culture that is more global and adventurous.

I enjoyed Mother Tongue and would recommend it to anyone interested in languages, family travel, or memoirs in general.

Have you learned a language while living abroad? Do you think it was easier or stuck better than learning it at home?

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Using Your Brain to Master Languages

fluent foreverI’ve mentioned before how much I love to study languages. But when I say “study” I mean just that. I like to study how they work, what the structure is like, and how they sound.  Studying languages is great brain exercise, and I really, really love brain exercise.  It’s the actual speaking in these languages that I can’t seem to nail down.

And yet, I’d love to speak other languages fluently enough to actually use them with native speakers here or while traveling.  I’ve tried a variety of methods–listening to CD courses, Rosetta Stone, traditional classes–and nothing really stuck.

Enter neuroscience.  It turns out that there ARE ways you can work WITH your brain to learn a new language–no matter what your age, background, or aptitude.

In Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It, author and polyglot Gabriel Wyner explores many of these connections, and how you can leverage your brain to learn a new language.  He tackles big concepts like how to get things into your long-term memory, and then goes into great and helpful depth on how to actually put this into practice.  If you’ve heard of spaced repetition systems but don’t know how to use one, this book is for you.  I LOVED this book.  After reading it, I have a concrete plan for learning Spanish this year, and have already implemented so many of his techniques with fun and satisfying results.  This is the book for you if you like to understand how things work, and if you want a realistic game plan for how to get to what you really want to do in a language.

fluent 3 monthsIn many ways, Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World is similar to Fluent Forever, in that both authors learned multiple languages fluently in adulthood and both advocate leveraging mnemonics and memory tactics to build fluency.  However, Benny Lewis’s book focuses more on jumping in and speaking right away, with less detail on how to use the memory skills he suggests.

The Fluent in 3 Months approach will appeal to extreme extroverts, especially those who aren’t very self-conscious.  It will also work if you’ve got a lot of extra time on your hands (Benny suggests a minimum of two hours per day).  I think some of his ideas are great, and made notes on them to try out once I get some basic vocabulary down.

However, for my personality, I think the Fluent Foreverapproach will work better.  Wyner suggests starting with language sounds (what I’ve learned about sounds and how we make them so far is fascinating even if it never led to language progress!) and then using Anki to nail the top 625 words in your target language.  Then you move into speaking and use sentences and phrases to learn grammar patterns.  You add in the rest of the top 1000 words, then start doing things like reading books in your target language with the audio book at the same time (brilliant!) to build fluency and comprehension, watching TV shows and movies dubbed (not subtitled) in your target language to pick up usage and how people speak colloquially, and then has suggestions for how to direct your language learning based on what you want to do with it.

In my opinion, Fluent Forever is the more broadly applicable choice here, but certainly both books would be a good reference if you’re interested in learning languages.

Do you like learning languages?  Which language would you learn first if you got to pick?

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.