A Problem of Priorities

All this week (and this coming Monday), Moose has been taking the PARCC Assessment at his school, which is the standardized test our state has been using for grades 3-8. It’s a long six days of testing; something we dread all winter long.

The school tries to make the test days a little more fun by having color themes for each day. They also offer a free breakfast to each student who is involved in the testing. So Moose eats his breakfast at home like he does every morning, and then goes to school to eat “Second Breakfast” Hobbit-style. This amuses him, and anything that helps him get through these long days is quite welcome.


There is another side to that story, and my amusement at Moose’s love of his bonus breakfast is tempered by my knowledge of the sad dichotomy at play here. Because if you stop to think about it, you realize why the school offers a free breakfast during the standardized testing period. It’s well-documented that children who have eaten perform better in school, and this should come as no surprise. Hunger, a growling stomach, thinking about your next meal (or sadly wondering where that meal is going to come from) all distract children from their primary task at school…learning. Children who are hungry don’t retain as much information, don’t perform as well, are less likely to succeed.

So, the school offers a free breakfast to the test-takers every morning. Why? Isn’t it obvious? It’s because the school wants good test scores. They want the students to reflect the institution well. They want to minimize as many distractions as possible so the students have good results. They know full bellies help children perform better.

And that right there pretty much sums up the problem with education in America…misplaced priorities.

The days of standardized testing should be the least of the schools’ concerns. If they’re truly worried about the well-being of their students, they should be offering a free breakfast every day, to make sure that on the regular old, normal instruction, ending in “y” days that make up the majority of the school year, the students are focused, as free from distractions as possible, so they can get down to the task of learning. Of absorbing as much information as possible. Of becoming critical thinkers.

But we’ve got it all backwards when it comes to education, and instead of placing the emphasis on the importance of learning, and supporting students as they do that, we instead focus primarily on the results. But if the students haven’t been supported in their learning all year-long, what kind of results can the school really except to achieve?

I understand that there are financial considerations to providing a free breakfast to any student who needs it all year-long. And I know that there are some programs in place that offer free or reduced-cost breakfasts to at least part of the student population already. But I also know that for many, that carries a stigma that free breakfast for everyone doesn’t, and so it’s possible that program isn’t being utilized to its fullest potential in the first place.

I’m glad that for six days, children who otherwise may not have been able to eat breakfast for whatever reason have a morning meal available to them in the school cafeteria. But what about the other 35 weeks of the school year? Until we can figure out how to straighten out the educational priorities in the country, not only are the test results going to continue to disappoint, the children in our school system are not going to receive the education they deserve.

What’s Happening to Lutheran Schools?

Just over a week ago, I found out that the Lutheran (Missouri Synod) Day School I attended for the first 10 years of my educational life had closed. While the school had been having problems for the last few years, I never really believed it would come to this. Somehow, I figured the school, supported by the parents, would overcome the obstacles, and make it work. Afterall, this is a school that had over 300 students in the not terribly distant past; a school that offered many extra curricular activities including music and various sports; a school that had a very challenging curriculum, particularly in the area of science, that more than prepared me for high school, and in some respects, even college.

So, I was surprised to find that the school closed, and closed rather abruptly. But I don’t think I should have been, because this seems to be a trend among Lutheran schools (and maybe other private religious schools, too, I don’t know). I know that the school my mother-in-law used to teach at basically exists on a year-to-year basis. And I’ve heard countless stories of Lutheran schools, of varying sizes, that are closing down, downsizing, or in danger of being disbanded. It makes me wonder if the LC-MS school system that we know today will be around in another 20 years. Maybe quality Lutheran education is no longer a priority to parents.

This trend makes me sad. The 10 years I spent at my school, from pre-K up to eighth grade graduation, shaped me, made me who I am today. I knew from my middle elementary years that I would go to a Lutheran college (after I “did my time” at the public high school), and was even pretty sure which Lutheran College I would go to. I also developed my passion for education at that institution, and while I may not be teaching in a traditional classroom, I *am* a teacher, and I regularly use things I remember from my own Lutheran school days in our homeschool.

I have the highest respect for our Lutheran Day Schools throughout the Synod. It is something that truly sets us apart from most other Christian denominations. If we had a high quality Lutheran school in our area that was within a decent driving distance, and we could afford tuition for four, I probably wouldn’t be homeschooling right now. I am sad to think that this tradition of Lutheran education is dwindling, and may eventually become the exception, and not the norm in Lutheran circles.


I have placed my first order with Sonlight! For now, I decided to go with the P 4/5 core, with the K readers and language arts, and K handwriting. I also added Get Ready, Set, Go for the Code from Sonlight, and some extra chapter books and a classical music CD from Amazon. I’ll decide within the next few weeks whether or not I’m going to go ahead and order the K materials as well, to supplement what I ordered tonight, but I wanted to order the stuff I knew I’d be using right away, so I can work on getting our classroom organized.

Some of the books I’m most looking forward to reading with Turkey and Bunny (and Moose and Ladybug, if they want to listen in) are A Family Treasury of LIttle Golden Books (there must be stories in there I remember from my childhood!), The Complete Adventures of Peter Rabbit, The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook, Usborne Stories from Around the World, the Children’s Book of Virtues, Family-Time Bible in Pictures, Then & Now, The Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature, and The Year at Maple Hill Farm. This is only a small sampling of the books we’ll be reading together in the coming months, but they’re the ones I’m most excited about, whether from reading them myself as a child, or from the way the descriptions in the catalog made them sound!

I don’t know who is more excited about our school year–me or the children. Turkey told me today that he wants to start school in three days! That’s obviously not going to happen, as I’m not ready for it yet, (I have some other shopping left–have to hit the parent-teacher supply store, Target and/or Wal-Mart and CPH, not to mention rearranging and setting up the guest bedroom/classroom) but I don’t know that we’ll make it to my original plan of Labor Day week. At the least, we’ll be doing a special unit that I’m putting together about the Olympics and China, which should be tons of fun. I’m really looking forward to this new adventure that we’re about to embark on together!

Considering My Options

I hope there will come a day when I am not obsessing over curriculum. In fact, I hope that day will come soon, because I really hope to place our order for the coming school year within the next two weeks. I, for one, am just grateful that I was able to choose a company from which to order so quickly. If I had to compare different curriculum packages within *and* between companies, I would be completely looney toons by now. I suppose, depending on who you ask (read, my husband!) I already am, as I cannot put the Sonlight catalog and/or website down in the evenings, but it is what it is. Decision time approaches, so hopefully I will get this figured out, and fast.

The way I look at it, I have three options. I’ve basically eliminated one of those, but it was my gut instinct as to what I should order, so I have to keep it on the table, just in case. I was initially just going to order the Core K, with K readers (Option One). Switch out the handwriting for a different style, but keep everything else in the package basically the same. I was going to add the Get Ready, Set, Go for the Code set for some extra reading help, but the rest was going to be the K suggestions–math, science, Bible, electives, etc. However, after talking to some people who have used Sonlight, I started to worry about starting Bunny at the K level too young (she’s four). Now, anybody who has met her can attest to the fact that she is quite bright, and rather advanced for a four year old. I wasn’t at all worried about her being able to pay attention or keep up with the work. But, some moms who have been through it mentioned that as we got into Cores Two and Three, the subject material might be a little heavy for her if we started a year early. Actually, some of them even recommended starting at the P 3/4 Core, but I think that’s ridiculous, and not an option at all–we’ve been reading a lot for the last three years, we need something more structured.

Anyway, those comments got me to thinking. Looking at the P 4/5 Core, I initially thought it would be too boring for Bunny and Turkey (who is five). We have read some of the books, and there isn’t really any structured math or electives, and no learning to read, so I couldn’t really see how that would work. But the thing about Sonlight is, you’re supposed to look more at the age ranges than the Core level, and doing that, Core P 4/5 makes the most sense, as it’s for four and five year olds, and I will be teaching, well, a four and a five year old!

So, Option Two was born. After considering to myself how I could tweak not only this year’s program to make it more advanced, but not set us up to get into too heavy subject material a few years down the road, I came up with what I think is a good compromise. I would get the P 4/5 Core, but with readers K, as well as language arts K, as planned in option one, which is an available choice from Sonlight (up through Core Three, you have the option of either advancing a core level in the readers, or an advanced set of readers within your core). Even though neither Turkey nor Bunny can read independently yet, they seem to be ready to learn, so this would be a good place to start. I would also get the handwriting and Explode the Code that I had planned to do with Core K, as that stuff is easily switched around in future years, and would provide them with an extra challenge. I would then also plan on getting the Classical Kids Collection of CDs (volume two, as volume one makes an appearance in an electives package in Core One or Two, I think) to add a little music appreciation/background of classical composers. I can also add a pattern blocks kit, which introduces some math concepts such as counting and geometry, and will help Bunny with spatial thinking (Turkey sure doesn’t need help in that department!)

This option is looking pretty good. We’ll be able to work ahead in reading, and from what I can tell, the readers are not so much the problem in regards to heavier content. That comes more from the book selections for the history core, and if we do the P 4/5 now, we’ll be more on track with the ages recommended for the cores later. Bunny will still be at the low end of the spectrum, but at least she’d be on it, unlike if we start with K now, and she’d always be a year “too young”–and like I said before, she’s advanced, so I think she can handle it. The other nice thing is the way the readers are laid out in coming years. We’ll be a year ahead, but once we get to Core Two, we’ll have the option of regular readers (which, in theory, we’ll do with Core One), as well as advanced and intermediate. So, even if we’re a grade level ahead for a little while, it’ll all catch up by Core Three.

Then, there’s Option Three. I honestly think that in an ideal situation, this is the best option we’ve got, but finances make it basically impossible. I haven’t discounted it altogether, because I honestly believe it’s the best solution, but I also don’t think it’s really going to happen. My big concern with the P 4/5 core is that we’re going to go through it faster than scheduled. Knowing my children, and their desire to learn, I have a hard time believing it will take a full school year to get through, even with the tweaking I have planned. So, ideally, I would like to do option two above, and order Core K with Readers One. If I do this, we can spend at least half the school year (which is what I’m estimating it would take to do the P 4/5 Core if we do it at the pace I think we’re going to want to) on the P 4/5 Core, and then move right into the K core without a break. This will give Bunny especially a little more time to mature, as opposed to jumping right into Core K, but will also (hopefully) prevent them from getting too bored. I would then get handwriting for Core One to go along with it, because it doesn’t really matter if they get ahead in that, as well as Explode the Code 1, 2, 3, which is scheduled to go along with the readers and language arts for Core One, which we would be upgrading to.

I see option three as the best of both worlds. We can ease our way into homeschooling (and school, in general) with Core P 4/5 and work at our own pace. If it goes fast, we can jump right into Core K. At worst, the P 4/5 really does take a full year, and we have the K curriculum ready to go next year when we need it. I don’t know–such tough decisions to make, when it’s in regards to your children’s education. I guess option two will work out OK as long as we don’t go through it too fast, and the bonus is, it’s the cheapest of the three options!

Wow, that was really long and confusing! If you’ve never looked at a Sonlight catalog, I’m sure it sounds like a foreign language. Actually, it’s taken the better part of three weeks for me to understand what I’m talking about, and I’m not even sure about myself half the time!

Book Review: “The Well Trained-Mind”

It’s going to sound cliche, but this book changed my life. Seriously. It was the reading of The Well-Trained Mind (and I’ll be honest, I didn’t even finish it before I had to return it to the library!) that really pushed us over the edge into homeschooling. It was my husband even more than myself that this book really impressed, and it made us look at the public school system in a new, and frankly rather unflattering, way.

This book was written by the mother-daughter duo of Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. Between the two of them, they have experience teaching in public schools, colleges and homeschools, as well as advanced degrees and have even authored a history curriculum written in the classical method and geared toward early elementary school students.

The Well-Trained Mind focuses on providing children with a classical education in the home. The basis of this method of instruction is the trivium–three sequential learning stages which are grammar, logic and rhetoric. What makes this book so fantastic are the extensive suggestions for resources for every part of the curriculum–from history and handwriting to Language Arts and Latin; from math and music to Social Studies and science, and everything in between. It is split up into stages of learning, and from there split into subjects. An enterprising parent could put together an entire curriculum based on the recommendations given! While I’m not that ambitious, I have noticed that Sonlight uses and/or offers many of the books listed in The Well-Trained Mind, and I also plan to supplement the curriculum we’ll be purchasing from that company with a few additional recommendations from this book.

The end of the book is also extremely helpful. The authors cover things such as making schedules (daily, as well as how to structure the school year, with a focus on year-round schooling in three different models), keeping records, standardized tests, tutoring and preparing for college. Basically, there are over 700 pages of awesome contained in this book. It was recommended to me by other homeschoolers when I was just considering homeschooling, and I will concur that anyone who thinks they might want to try homeschool should read this book, because it is a valuable resource.

This book deserves more than five stars as far as I’m concerned. I will be ordering a copy for my personal use from Amazon as soon as possible, and I can’t wait to sit down with it and a highlighter, and mark all the books we definitely will be reading, as well as others I would like to add to our studies. I think this will become one of my most useful homeschooling resources, and I plan on using the suggestions in it to help me educate my children for many years to come!

I Have a Plan!

So, after spending the last several weeks going through homeschooling catalogs and websites of all kinds, as well as talking to people online, I think I have a plan for this year!

We’re going to start with Sonlight K, but not the newcomer package, because I decided to use A Reason for Handwriting instead of Handwriting Without Tears, which is what comes with the newcomer set. (And how much does all this agonizing I’ve done over handwriting curriculum even matter? Everybody is typing nowadays. But they still need to learn to write properly!) I realize that most people who have tried Handwriting Without Tears have loved it, but I really prefer the more traditional look that is taught in A Reason for Handwriting, and I also like that the practice is done with Bible verses (even it is selections from the Living Bible. *sigh* I’ll have to see how the lessons are presented, and how easy it would be to substitute with the ESV). So, my big challenge is going to be making sure I order everything else that would have come in the newcomer package, just switching out the handwriting materials, and also adding Ready, Set, Go for the Code for additional learning to read help.

I know some people would probably recommend starting with the P 4/5 curriculum, since I’m going to be working with a four and five year old. But I’ve been over both the K and the P 4/5 materials many times, and I really think they would both be bored with the 4/5 stuff. I don’t want to sound like the typical bragging parent, but both of my older children are pretty advanced, which was partly the reason we decided to homeschool, so they could be more challenged, and I think they know most of the stuff from the 4/5 curriculum. I guess at worst we end up stretching out or repeating the K curriculum, but I really don’t think it’s going to be an issue.

As long as homeschooling goes well this year, and I feel comfortable with what I’m doing, I may look into switching out other parts of the curriculum. Not the core, obviously, because that’s the best part of Sonlight–all of the reading, and the natural learning method as far as history, geography, etc., goes. In the future, though, especially if I actually get to a curriculum fair, I think I may want to try Apologia for science (maybe starting at grade two, so I can do the astronomy, botany, and three zoology texts before general science hits in seventh grade), because I always loved science in grade school (and high school and college for that matter, except for physics, but that’s a whole other story!) and the Apologia curriculum looks really cool!

I’m also hoping to get a chance to compare Saxon math to the Horizons curriculum that Sonlight recommends, because I know it’s a tried and true method, and a lot of homeschoolers use it, so I figure I should at least check it out. Hopefully I can make that decision before we start grade one next year–that way I won’t end up doubling up on manipulatives sets (I know I could put together my own, but that idea is still intimidating to a new homeschooler like me!).

Eventually I know I’m going to want to move away from the religion that Sonlight provides, as well. I’m already adding the Lutheran Children’s ESV to our materials for this year, to beef up the Bible curriculum that they provide, and maybe some Arch books, too. I’m OK with Sonlight’s offerings (supplemented by CPH material) up through about grade two or three, but then they A.) start using Bible translations I’m not fond of, and 2.) start teaching some stuff that could be contradictory to Lutheran theology, at least from what I can tell so far. I can always fall back on CPH’s dayschool religion curriculum or *gasp* prepare my own–I was a DCE before children, after all, so if there’s anything I should be able to create on my own, that would be it!

The reading, read-alouds and Language Arts all look good to me, so no worries about replacing those. The electives look pretty good, too–certainly more about music and art appreciation than I ever learned in the early elementary years. And while I’m not using Sonlight’s number one recommendation for handwriting, and I may decide on different math and science, all of those materials are still available to order through Sonlight (and I think still eligible for the member discount), so except for the religion materials, it appears I can keep all of my business in one place. Very convenient!

I’m most excited about Sonlight’s core, though–I can’t believe how much we’ll be reading! I think I’ve looked at the book lists for almost every grade, and there are so many familiar books from my childhood that I can’t wait to share with my children. And I love the way they use “real” books to teach history, instead of just dry textbooks. I know I remember much more from the stories I read as a child, whether they were true, or just entertaining fiction, than I do from any textbook I read. I know this isn’t the only way of learning, but it is the one that makes the most sense to me, so I’m especially happy Sonlight has put together such a nice curriculum for me–I wouldn’t even know where to start doing this on my own!

I can’t believe we’ve actually made the decision to homeschool. I certainly never saw myself as a homeschooling parent. Then again, our family has always been a little unorthodox, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised that this seems to be such a good fit for us–we’re good at going against the grain! I’m especially grateful to my husband, because he was obviously listening to me, (at times when I didn’t even realize I was talking!), and was open minded enough not only to consider this, but to actually do a complete 180 on his opinions on homeschooling. I never even would have seriously considered homeschooling without his support, but I feel that with God calling me to do this, and Ryan’s encouragement, I’ve been set free to do something I always wanted to do, without even really knowing it at the time.