Lessons I’ve learnt after straying from a Charlotte Mason approach…

 

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My 8 year old is newly-enrolled onto Catherine Mooney’s Wordweavers course. I was surprised to see that almost from the beginning, she was instructed to spend at least 5 minutes a day doing some copywork. Actually, no. Why would I be surprised? I have heard many people say copywork is the best way to learn the mechanics of sentence structure, grammar, the whole lot. As Catherine Mooney does not seem to be an advocate of endless drills and homework, and if I’m not wrong, she mentioned in the course book that homework and drills are “not as effective as you may think”… I guess it makes a lot of sense.

She used to tell me she hated copywork when we used to do Charlotte Mason style homeschooling using Ambleside Curriculum. Now she absolutely LOVES Catherine Mooney’s Wordweavers. There’s copywork involved too! So what gives? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the language, the presentation of the course, the words in the course book, etc. It also comes with a CD that plays what is written in the course book, so she doesn’t have to read the course material on her own. She is not the most confident reader, although I think she is doing just fine. She complains that words skip around the page or lines disappear or appear – signs of dyslexia perhaps? But nothing too severe. She spells and writes and does everything just fine. If you told her to read something aloud, she’s fine. But something is causing her to not feel very comfortable with reading on her own. She says it’s boring, etc. I usually play the CD when she is going through the course book herself and she loves it. She tells me the course is fun. I think she just needs a little bit of help and encouragement and fun thrown in. That’s all. And even if she has some kind of mild dyslexia, that can eventually be overcome.

At the same time though, it made me realise that my past few months’ foray into a more direct method of instruction when it came to grammar and the lot, may not have worked as well as I thought. I don’t think my kids really learnt as much as I’d have liked for the amount of time they’d spent on this. We have all but stopped using the Saxon Grammar books I bought my eldest. I started her on Reading Eggspress recently as I was really curious about her reading level. I know she has always been an avoider of reading books, and she is not great with vocabulary, but I knew Reading Eggs has a very rough calculation of reading age. Right now Reading Eggs is saying her reading age is… 9.5 years old. Even though she is 12 now. Okay I kind of am not surprised by that actually. I knew when I used Sonlight Core D with her – well, I tried to – not so long ago, she was not understanding lots of words in the readalouds and often got entirely the wrong idea about what the storyline meant. As she hates taking the trouble to look at the dictionary, she just tends to skip over words she doesn’t understand. That’s fine because I used to do that too as a kid. However, I gradually got a good inkling of what those words meant over time, after reading lots of books. She, however, just does not read enough to be able to do this, so she stays ignorant of what these words mean. And I actually stopped using Sonlight Core D on her about a month ago. I caved in and enrolled her onto Briteschool for English tuition instead, because I felt something is not quite right, either with the material I’m buying her or her standard of English is really low, or something else. I just could not figure out what the problem was. I thought if I send her to an English tutor, the tutor could cater to her needs better.

I did peep at the lessons (they’re all recorded) to see how she fared in classes and unfortunately she does seem to be one of the weaker students in some aspects, especially creative writing. Now that Reading Eggs has calculated her reading age to be 9.5 years old, I think this kind of clicks now. Strangely, when she did an actual SATS English paper, she scored to be a Level 5, so I’m not quite sure what’s the problem really. I think the problem comes down to the fact she is not reading enough. Not reading the right level of material too. Perhaps the Sonlight Core D stuff is too hard. I am thinking of having her do the Core A stuff but to read it by herself. She’s got to start somewhere. And I’ve been taking her to the library frequently to let her choose her own books to read. I’m also thinking of having her do some copywork now. I’m not feeling very hopeful though. I’ve tried these things with her before. Something is not working and I’m not quite sure what. She should probably be okay at the end of it.

Right, so I’ve started doing Writing With Ease again, but this time only on my little boy who would be in American Kindergarten age. I was thinking of buying a generic Collins/CGP/etc. English workbook type thing for him at first to get the English work done, but now I am convinced copywork is just as effective, if not better. The Writing With Ease copywork really only takes 5 minutes a day, or less. I think it’s a good way for him to practice his cursive writing as well. I’m not that fond of the questions though, and my son is not really able to answer them correctly 3 times out of 5 to be honest. I know, especially when he has a bit of a scatty attention and the problem with this book is that the passages are like chunks out of good books. Context is much harder to grasp in this way, especially for a little boy, so I’m actually in a little bit of 2 minds about continuing to use Writing With Ease. I have this same problem with using this book for my other 2 older children as well. And this whole comprehension exercise thing with the question and answering kind of makes me think it spoils the natural way in which people (children and adults) gain their own understanding and meaning from reading. Different people get different things out of what they read, and I am wary of these questions beginning to restrict what meanings my children get out of these readings.

So hmm… will really have a think about how I’m going to improve on our English/Language Arts. I might be going back to a more Charlotte Mason style, but I don’t think I’ll be using Ambleside Curriculum after our last struggles with it and the archaic language which my children aren’t terribly fond of. The Sonlight books however, they seem to love. In fact, my 2 little ones absolutely adore many of the Core A titles we’ve read the past few months, for example Here’s A Penny, House At Pooh Corner, My Father’s Dragon, etc. Too many to name! Sonlight, if you’re reading this, I want you to know you’ve done such a great job of picking books! I was trying to get my kids to love reading and this sealed it for them. Okay they’re still not THAT fond of reading by themselves, but that’s because they probably are still catching up, but they never fail to request Sonlight books for bedtime story reading. That to me is a big plus. They love the poetry books too, and they love the children’s encyclopaedia that comes with the Core. Even Mary On Horseback, which I thought wasn’t going to be a hit, turned out to be something that really stuck with them even if it isn’t a favourite (for its rather grim storyline at times).

I don’t use the Instructor Guide at all except for planning what to read next. I feel that this is one thing very Charlotte Mason about the way we’re doing this. I think after all this, I’m starting to really stray away from the excess comprehension question type approach that the Sonlight IG and Writing With Ease books do. I really really don’t like this. I do like a good discussion, but not with scripted questions. Before my experience with these, I thought I liked scripted questions. Well after all these months, I don’t anymore. There is too much focus on getting things right when you ask questions like this. My kids need to learn to love books and enjoy them, and comprehension questions saps the fun out of it. That’s my experience anyway.

In fact I don’t want to do narration too much either or it becomes a bit tedious. But I might do that again at times. I think it’s good to mix it up a little. Sometimes narration, sometimes a lapbook, sometimes a resource from Twinkl, sometimes questions… I am not a purist. But for planning purposes, I have to say that it is a bit more work planning what to do than to just say, follow a timetable set by Ambleside or Sonlight, or simply use the question-and-answer format provided in Writing With Ease or Sonlight IGs for instance. I have however, found a rhythm and pattern to planning things out myself, and it seems like more work but I can tailor the plans to my kids’ interests. I know when they are excited and happy to find out what I have planned, and when they are chattering with excitement AS they are doing the things I’ve planned, that it’s all worth it in the end.

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