First Week of Summer

All week we have davened outside in our backyard.  I do not know why I never did that before.  It is so beautiful, sunny, warm, who would NOT want to be outside? I told the boys to get their siddurs and go outside for we were going to daven.  On Friday morning, one boy asked if we were going to daven outside.  I had forgotten that is what we had been doing but it took me just a moment to say yes.  I am so glad we did!  It felt so good to be outside, and bonus was that my almost 3-year-old-going-on-50 was able to run around outside leaving me free to actually daven with the older boys as well!

Well, I thought I would be off to a good start by making a schedule of our summer.  There are things we do not get to do during the school year that I am planning to do this summer.  So, yes, I did do a schedule and a beautiful boy did enter it into Excel and yes, we did save it! So, why have we done nothing on the list except for davening -and even that ended up being done late, and later each day this week?

I think I figured it out this morning.  For four days the boys went to Twilight Camp.  It is a Cub Scout camp in the evenings (5:30-8:30 pm).  They had so much fun running around, climbing, playing games, learning all sorts of fun things, that by the time we got home and into bed they were sleeping before they hit their pillows!  They were so worn out that they did not wake up until after 9 am, so our mornings did not start until almost lunch time.  But, they had fun, lots of fun, and my oldest who is too old for Cub Scouts and is in Boy Scouts went as a staff member and had lots of fun as well.  That’s what it’s all about. 🙂

So, yes, I have a schedule for summer, and today I was excited to try starting again.  One boy went on the plane by himself to see Grandpa and have a blast these next few days.  Lunch when we got home yesterday was silent.  You could hear a pin drop.  Even though I don’t miss the kibbitzing when all three older boys are home, I do miss him.

Today, I had all intentions of starting our summer schedule.  I really did.  I even got up before my husband got up (and that is telling everything!)  I got my husband off to work, had to wake boys up for they were still sleeping, and then I got to work.  Sweeping, mopping, washing, and cleaning.  By 10:04 I had all sorts of stuff done and was feeling pretty good and we were almost ready to go daven. Davening again happened outside.  It was beautiful.  I just didn’t feel like doing any school work, I came inside, made some more tea, and then told my son I was going for a nap.  After the nap, we had lunch outside and I spent the next hour or so reading to the boys.

I resigned to the idea that I’m taking a break and doing something that I actually want to do, not just need to do.  So, cleaning and organizing is going to be our schedule for the week.  I know I won’t get it all done, but the goal is that I will be a long ways over.  I’m confident that it will get done.  Schoolwork can wait until next week.

I think I’m going to end here, I am having a hard time thinking for now my almost 3 year old who is now out of diapers (yeah!) now knows that the water we drink turns to pee after he asked me why he needed to have more water, and as I am trying to type, I’m trying to answer his question on why people need gas that comes from our tummy.

And anyways, the brownies are done, and I’m going to get my 8 year old who went to bed (but is up reading his new 800 page Mark Twain collection I got him yesterday)  so he can have some too.  After all, it’s summer!

Galileo and the Magic Numbers and Testing

“Well, we’ll have to work on that Greek grammar.  Now, how about mathematics?”

“Mathematics? You mean arithmetic?  I can add and subtract numbers.”

“Do you know Pythagorean number magic?”

Galileo shook his head.  He about witches magic and black magic, but number magic –?  That was a new kind of magic.
Borghini went to the cupboard and returned with a handful of little white pebbles.

“Pythagoras was a Greek philosopher who lived over two thousand years ago.  He loved numbers.  For him, the whole universe could be explained by mathematics.  He thought numbers could describe beauty, music, and even the acts of gods and men.  Your father is a musician, is he not?”

“Yes, Master, and a fine one.”

“So I am told.  Then you will understand what I mean when I say that Pythagoras invented the first numbered musical scale.”

“He must have been a very great man, indeed, to have done that.”

Master Jacopo knelt on the floor and motioned Galileo to do the same.  Galileo’s eyes widened.  This was a strange way for a teacher to act!  Most of his friends had told him dreadful stories of their teachers.  They all insisted upon strict discipline and were very formal and strict.  Yet this teacher was asking him to sit on the floor to play games!  Galileo sat, legs crossed like a Saracen.

“Now, this is the magic,” said Borghini.  He placed one pebble on the floor.


That was a passage from the new book I read this week –  “Galileo and the Magic Numbers” by Sidney Rosen.

I’ve spent a week trying to write this post.  Mainly for I was not sure what to write, and partly because I kept getting interrupted.  I’m just going to blame the interruptions 😉 .  However, after a flood of emails coming through on one of my homeschooling lists, I’m going to take what I liked about the above book and tie it into testing.

Galileo was not homeschooled per say, but he was privately tutored for a couple of years, meaning he was taught one-on-one, which is, basically homeschooling.  The above passage describes how out-of-the-box Galileo’s teacher was in his teachings and how it impacted Galileo.  Galileo ended up going to a monastery to learn for a few years, and then to university.  He spent most of his life learning, teaching or in some what associated with a university.  For the longest of time (shall I dare say until the past 50 years or so???) each teacher, each school, each chain of thought taught their students differently.  It seemed to work just fine.  We have benefited greatly from people such as Copernicus, Aristotle, Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Samuel Morse, the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, Graham Bell and Alexander Fleming (discoverer of penicillin) just to name a few.  I have not read all these biographies yet, but of the ones I have read about, the education was all very different, and sometimes the person just could not get into learning the way it was taught and seemed like a “bad” student.  In the end, we see that each of these people all learned in various ways and contributed greatly to our lives today.

This brings me to standardized testing.  There is a big push to have standardized testing in the public schools.  Public schools in each state are given the curriculum to use for each grade.  They are told what to teach.  At the end, students take tests to see how much they have learned.  It is easy then for each state to compile a “standard” test for each grade, for every child across the state learns the same thing for each grade.

A homeschool student does not necessarily learn what they learn in public/private schools at the same time these students learn the material.  Is that wrong or bad?  Most would agree that not a problem.

I have 4 beautiful boys.  For each child, I have to teach them very differently, and at different ages I have to teach them differently as well.  One child can read to himself or a brother in the same room that I am reading out loud to another boy.  Others need to be in a totally different room when I am talking out loud for it is distracting.  Some boys can do math in the same room with me when I am busy with another boy, and yet, I have a boy who needs absolute silence and my 100% undivided attention when he does his math – not that I do any of the work for him, he just needs me to sit next to him and make him feel important by sitting there absorbed in only him.

The question arises then, what do we do with the standardized tests that some states require?  What do they mean?  A mother posted that her son was taking a grade 3 standardized test.  Someone else was the proctor, and the test was spread over multiple days.  The child “finished early” the first day, and did not complete the test, and at the same time, the proctor told her that he put D’s as most of the answers.  The mother realized that she never prepared her son for taking multiple choice tests and went over with him how to take them and some tips.  The rest of the tests he finished, and chose various letters for answers, but when the test scores came back in, he scored in the lowest 2%.  The mother was obviously very upset and concerned about the results.  The question is, what do they really mean?

Most of the responses stated that in general, the scores are not a reflection of your son’s intelligence, but rather his ability to take a standardized test.  Up to this point, he hadn’t had any exposure to multiple choice tests and the testing strategies that go along with those tests.

One response was, “I always tell them before we go to testing…I already know how well they are doing in school. We only take these to fulfill the law. These tests will NOT ask a single question about the Bible, good character, Shakespeare, any composer or artist, science that we are currently studying (I don’t follow the public school rotation), geography, famous people or history. So these tests will not test you on about 75% of our schooling.

I had a child ask me about the science questions once (after the above discussion) and I offered to look up what subject they would be testing him on that year. His eyes got HUGE and he accused me of offering to cheat on the test! I explained that schools know ahead of time what topics will be on the test and that teachers spend the entire year teaching students exactly what will be on the test that year. He was shocked that test scores were so low if that was true!”

Other responses were:

“ITBS [a kind of standardized test] is a norm refrenced test. Norm-referenced tests compare a person’s score against the scores of a group of people who have already taken the same exam. The score will be a rating rather than a percentage of correct answers.”

(I am under the impression that most standardized tests are also norm-referenced tests.)

” I also think that we are on a separate path from kids in school. At some point, perhaps college, our paths need to merge, so our children need to test well by the SAT, but not necessarily when they are young.”

I think the above quote says it all — we all learn differently, at different paces, but the idea is that it all should come together at the end – not the beginning or even in the middle.

So what about these tests?  Some of us still have to give our children tests occasionally to fulfill state requirements, we cannot get around that.  I have given my boys the full battery CAT (10 tests on reading, vocabulary, language, math, science and social studies.)  These tests were given for our benefit only, not state requirements. The results of the tests varied.  One child aced the tests.  On the other hand, I had one child who was a late reader and did poorly on most of the tests for grade 1 and 2 for he could not read the material. After the test was finished and packaged up I asked him the same questions orally and he knew the answers very well, however, the test results came back very poor for obvious reasons.

Most people seem to think that for homeschooled students these standardized tests are more for the practice of taking multiple choice tests than seeing how much the student really knows or learned for we are many times teaching different things or things at different times.  If that is true, are they a waste of time?  I would not call them a waste.  If nothing else, they are good practice for later.  Almost all kids who go to college will have to take the SAT or other such multiple choice tests and we want to make sure our children are on the same playing level as others for tests.  For language and math, the tests seem to be a little bit more relevant, but for my late reader that is not true either. However, other than I know my husband will disagree with me, I would not worry too much about the results if you can figure out other ways to check your child’s knowledge (discussions are great!).  If a parent is concerned, try giving tests more often so the child gets used to that form of testing.

Ambleside Online – Why I’m so excited!

Over the years, we have had various kinds of curricula.  We started off with Calvert, an all-in-one curriculum that even includes crayons, pencils and erasers!  It is a standard school curriculum which includes the teacher’s guide, answers, and wonderful support from real teachers.  After using it for 3 years, I realized that other than it is quite expensive (it was costing me about $700 a year per child, but over 93% cheaper than private schools,) it was not working out for one of my children so I had to look for something else.

Money was a huge issue, as well as the fact that I was trying to teach and look after several younger children at the same time and I decided I was going to try to see if I could combine and overlap some of the teaching with the boys to help me out.  I spent a long time looking into Unit Studies.  Unit Studies take a topic and combine different subjects into one unit so you are teaching many subjects at once.

We have a yearly budget for school, which includes any camp, and two years ago, while our boys were at a much needed (for me!) camp, I spent several days searching the internet for unit studies that I wanted to do for the coming year.  With sending 3 boys to camp for 2 weeks each, my budget for schooling for the year was almost nothing, so I had to search for free stuff.  The problem was that I was not finding free units for the topics I wanted to teach.  The second last day of camp I was at my wit’s end.  I just did not know what to do.  Our schooling was suppose to start in 4 days and I had no clue what I was going to teach!  For some reason I clicked on a link that was a curriculum.  I did not want a curriculum, but I clicked anyways.  What did I have to loose?  I already exhausted all possible sites for what I was looking for anyways, and I needed a change of pace.  I started reading.  It was Ambleside Online, a Charlotte Mason curriculum.  A free curriculum, nice, but not for me (not that I knew anything about it!)  As I read all about the curriculum, I found myself liking and agreeing with what I was reading.  I emailed my husband some of what I read for I really liked it – not that I was going to do it, but it was really good stuff.  I kept reading.  And reading.  And reading.  By the end of the day I knew what I was going to do that year – with only 2 days to prepare (Shabbos was in the middle,) I was going to jump right into it anyways and figure it out.

Charlote Mason lived in England in the late 1800’s early 1900’s.  Ms. Mason was a teacher for many years and spend a lot of time trying to improve her teaching ideas and skills.  In a nutshell, she voted for short lessons, which equal to short school days so there is time for personal interests and hobbies (very important.)  However, she was an advocate for a strong education with knowledge in a wide range of topics and felt that children were capable of more than we tend to think of them as being capable of. She was an advocate for living books – books written by authors who were knowledgeable and passionate about the topic. At the same time, religion was very important and incorporated God into secular learning.  She was a huge advocate of sending kids outside for as long as possible with part free time and part guided time.  Middos (character traits) are very important.  And, don’t start children too early.  Let them grow, let them learn about nature, let them understand how a flower grows and how a squirrel lives.  Let them learn how to observe nature and then they can learn.  With four children, and with being religious, the idea of having time to teach all of them, give them a good strong educational background AND do it with Hashem in mind all the time, Wow!

The Charlotte Mason version that we use is an online version.  The advisory has tried to find as many of the books that fit the teaching style as possible that are out of copyright and available for free online.  This helps cut down the cost.

They have also set up a schedule for each year – broken down by week.  This makes it very flexible. Some children need to break readings down into multiple sections read over several days, and it gives the option of putting everything into a 4 day week instead of 5.  This is what we do.  I arrange almost everything into 4 days, and Fridays are left for other stuff (yes, cooking and cleaning is part of it, but that really is school for that is real life skills.)  I do not feel forced to use everything on the list.  Obviously, I replace the Bible with Torah study, Christian history with our Jewish history and hymns with davening and Shabbos songs.  However, I do not have to worry about reading that the world is millions of years old when I do not believe that.  The setup is just a nice guideline being flexible if I need to replace a book and letting me choose when to teach.  There are a few books that I have left out of teaching for they are too Christian based, but all in all, that is not an issue and we enjoy being able to easily see Hashem in all our learning.

The big difference that one will see when they go through the FAQ’s is that especially for the younger years, there is no writing except the copywork! None!  What is done instead is oral narrations.  The parent or teacher (if in a school) reads from the different books, then asks for an oral narration from the child(ren).  After the narration, the parent or teacher then uses that for discussions.  Why oral narrations? Talking is easier than writing, and if you cannot tell me what you read, then you do not understand and how can you write about it?  Starting in year 4, after the child has the idea of how to listen and read and understand, then they start with 1-2 written narrations.  The readings get very intense – starting in year 4 we add Plutarch’s Lives and Shakespeare (yes, the real thing – however, it did not work out for us too well, but I think it was mostly me and the scheduling mainly….)  Younger children have short attention span so the lessons need to be short – 10-15 minutes.  Older children about 30-45 minutes.  No longer.  Also, learn not to repeat (unless the child does not understand) for they need to learn to listen the first time, after all, their boss is not going to tell them twice to do a job!

The first year was a little strange.  It took a while before I got the hang of what I was suppose to be doing with the narrations.  This past year I had a much better idea and the discussions came a lot easier for me.  I will be entering year 3 with AO and am very excited.  I just placed the order for the year’s books – $160 for my oldest (the younger ones already have the books!).  Well, that is everything except math.  That will come at the end of the summer.  My oldest is going to be reading about all sorts of exciting stuff this year such as classical mechanics, relativity (yes, in year 6!!!), reading the Hobbit and the Animal Farm and all about the Greeks and Romans.  He has read the unabridged classics such as Robinson Crusoe and Oliver Twist, with more to come!  Oh, and Understood Betsy and The Little Duke are NOT to be missed!

I have my reading list for the summer set out for me, I can’t wait!  I think I will enjoy the books more than they will!