Friday, January 25, 2019

Trying out homeschooling again

I will get back to hospital life soon- it takes some time to remember and organize my thoughts.

You guessed it, our schedule changed again and now we're starting over.

I might be repeating myself, but also have some fresh speculations about homeschool life. First of all, as you might have noticed, I've been dragging my feet about committing to a formal school day. And I'm also kind of reluctant to join a "community." There is so much information out there! There are lots of great blogs, and Instagram accounts. I look at Instagram posts (of homeschoolers) and see lots of comments asking of materials, "where'd you get that?" Obviously I don't ask the question myself because it wouldn't be sold in stores here or delivered to Russia. But there is still a moment when I think "I want that too...but I don't NEED it." The materials we have at our disposal are just right for us. But, it may take a little more creativity or perusing the Russian homeschool forums.

I'm attracted to the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling and am currently trying to see if I can make it work with our family life. I like the whole concept of laying a "feast" before the children, presenting them with rich cultural treasures through a range of subjects, taking nature walks, etc.

At first glance, the methodology seems simple. I've been perusing Ambleside Online and Simply Charlotte Mason  as well as working through Charlotte Mason's actual works.

Much of the approach revolves around "living books" (stories with real-life application) as opposed to textbooks. I took a look at our picture books, and they pretty much fit this description anyway, in a range of subjects-science, geography, history, etc.

But it's still a jump to go from just reading books together to turning it into school. I think it's going to take some work to make a transition into more formal schooling. My hope is that David and/or Sophia will get used to the format and then it will go more smoothly without having to explain each time what we are doing and why.

So, a few questions that have come up:

-David currently struggles with "writing." He is still pretty much at the beginning of this journey. He is so ready to compose stories but can't write them down for himself yet. I also think that if not for needing to actually work on writing, he might have learned to read by now. Because each letter is so hard to write, we are going through the alphabet very slowly.

-I wanted to give us this year to remain informal. I don't really like the idea of a formal preschool curriculum. And Kindergarten curriculum gives me a heart attack! Is Kindergarten the new first grade? But at the same time, "free play" doesn't seem to be giving David what he needs in terms of motor skills. So we're going to have to set up some more intentional activities. I loathe preparing/ instructing crafts and games. That sounds funny! I should clarify-I loathe the time/energy it involves. Before kids, I did it all the time. But it is harder at the moment. And besides that, David isn't into following a plan. I keep wanting to introduce him to board games and I picture him arguing with the instructions. I do the whole presentation and he has his own idea. But, we need to get those muscles working. I don't want handwriting to be a stumbling block. So, I guess I will look for sand and shaving cream to do those alphabet activities that are all over Pinterest.

-Many homeschooling programs seem to emphasize doing school in the morning and having the afternoons more unstructured. I can definitely see the advantage of taking that morning momentum and getting going before everyone has gone off to play separately. However, our climate interferes here. In the winter, we have to do our outside time in the morning if we want to see daylight. In the summer, it's the opposite-we need to hurry outside before the sun's rays (if they choose to show themselves) get too hot. So, I'm kind of answering my own question here, but it seems like we need to have a Morning School option and Afternoon School option that would potentially flip-flop.

-On that note, we also have Andrei's schedule changing daily (and then alternating weeks), so that affects mealtime, etc. I don't know if he would be able to take the time to actually teach one of the subjects, but he could at least read to David more on some days, or possibly take him on a field trip to a museum.

-Discipline and habit-formation are a large part of Charlotte Mason. Umm, not our family's strong points. But all the more reason to cultivate them, right? And I keep hoping that forming some habits will take out some of the heaviness of daily parenting that involves negotiating/persuading/etc. When you do it every day, you develop muscle memory and don't have to devote so much energy to understanding/adapting to the task.

-There are lots of resources online to put together a curriculum, but there is so much emphasis on American culture. Do I want to fully immerse my kids in American culture? Should I switch some to Russian (such as local geography, not U.S.) ? Are there good resources about Russian culture in the English language? Should I just start with American culture/history the first year and switch to Russian the next?

-How can we adapt "nature study" to city life? What will be our best "window" into the changing seasons?

-And after all that talk about not needing textbooks, there are actually lots of standard books and commercial study materials (basically textbooks!) out there for Charlotte Mason. Should I just stick to whatever we can get our hands on, since it's supposed to be a simple (yet varied) approach? Or go through the process of tracking down materials in the U.S. and ordering/transporting them?

-Do I have to get in touch with a school system in the U.S. to officially register as homeschoolers?

Out of time for this post, just wanted to get some thoughts out there.


  1. Hello! Welcome back to the land of normal life, right? :)

    Just some thoughts, even though I am sending our kids to the local Christian school (gov't subsidized). I've looked into some homeschool things for eventually teaching the kids about American history and culture, as they won't get that here, unless it intersects with Dutch history. And maybe some more structured Bible memory/discipleship too.

    I think you should definitely teach your kids about Russian geography and culture and history, whatever they're not already absorbing through your in-laws and church and daily life. From what I've seen, homeschool curriculum about history doesn't start til about age 8 (I don't even remember how old David is!). For younger kids, you could probably start with the stories of Thanksgiving and other holidays and bits of history/culture around those.

    I'm sure there are good resources out there about Russian culture. Maybe there are storybooks about kids growing up in Russia, that could show different time periods through a narrative as opposed to a history lecture. :) That reminds me, I'll send you some photos of pages from this book:

    Also, I'm curious what these "emphases on American culture" are that you're finding online!

    Here, from what I can see, 4's and 5's don't really have formal education - it's still a lot of playtime and what seems to me like organized chaos. :D I could probably be mistaken - I'll get back to you in a few months on that!

    Nature study - the zoo? trees? gauge/explain the seasons by what flowers the babushki are selling at the metro? maybe a weather chart to help them with cloudy/sunny/rainy etc?

    I've seen Charlotte Mason stuff on Pinterest, so maybe there's enough material there for you? And then maybe a guidebook or two for you of how to do it? (I've asked my parents to bring specific library books when they visit, so I can see if I'd like to buy it - and then they just return it when they go home)

    Anyway, that's all for now from my nonprofessional self :D

    1. Thanks! Let's see if I can remember what I meant when I wrote this post. I think by "online" I meant the Charlotte Mason sites that I linked. David would probably be starting "Year 1" when he's 7. You could call it first grade, but at any rate it would be age 6 or 7 in most families. And History is definitely a part of the curriculum! Since Charlotte Mason does this in the form of "living books," it's just picture books about other time periods, famous people, etc-just told in the form of a story.

      As to "American emphasis," I wonder what I meant. Probably not teaching American culture as a subject, but rather through the lens of American culture. There are subtleties that come across and I realize that especially with a lot of picture books, our lifestyle is completely different. I'm not sure if I meant that it is narrow-minded or just that we would have to change it to make it more relevant. Of course Charlotte Mason was British, not American. Anyway, I did peruse Amazon for some books about city life, seems like there are some good ones.

      Thanks for your ideas, I'm going to give them some thought. :)

  2. Just a few thoughts on writing and developing fine motor skills from a preschool teacher. If he wants to compose stories- go ahead and dictate or type them for him. It will probably be very motivating for him to go back and read/ memorize them, which is a great skill builder. If he is willing to illustrate by drawing or by cutting and gluing photographs or pictures from magazines, those will also build fine motor skills. For building fine motor skills- scissor use is a great start. At first just let him experiment (will probably end up like a fringe), then progress to following a straight line and then a curved line. Any sort of clay or play doh (not sure what’s available) is also great. I also liked to keep a simple portfolio with dated samples every three months or so. For preschool, I would ask to draw a picture of themselves, write any letters they knew from their name, identify their name on a card from three choices, count a group of 1-5 objects, name the colors of 6 objects, and then give a verbal sample by asking an open ended question and recording their answers. Just a good way to capture progress in a simple way.

    1. Thanks! I realized my handwriting isn't the best, so typing the stories up is a good idea. We'll incorporate some of these ideas.

  3. Having David dictate the stories to you and you type them up may encourage his reading. He'll be able to "read" the words you typed up and printed on paper.

    1. I decided that's what we'll try! It will at least help his narration skills.


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