Sunday, September 30, 2007

Starting to plan the progym

Short learning log note:

  • Lamb's Tales of Shakespeare must have "worked" for Sean, because he has been reading it all this weekend.
  • Kieron heard me reading Tigger is Unbounced to Paddy and this inspired him to get out Complete Winnie the Pooh Tales which he is now rereading. He wants me to read it to Paddy -- well, it's certainly something to think about.
  • I got out Childrens' Book of Virtues and Moral Compass because I do think Paddy's about at that stage.


Now about planning:

I have gotten out all my progym and writer's books. This is Aphthonius's Progymnasmata, which is actually a nice summary -- it's the one I used for my older set since none of the progym books were out yet at that time. More about that later.

Also, here is Melissa Wiley about Bravewriter
and Mother Crone: Praise for Bravewriter

I don't have Julie's Bravewriter program, but I do like her Lifestyle principles.

I stumbled upon similar ones by trial and error with my older set. When they were younger, the only writing programs out there for homeschoolers were ones that I did not like. They all seemed artificial to me. Bravewriter was obviously not out back then. I tried a couple of highly recommended composition programs with my oldest, Liam, who is now 21. He was not very impressed, and since he was usually quite fair-minded about his academics, that was a signal to me to drop them quickly. I'm very glad in retrospect I trusted my instincts on this.

I didn't even try any of these standard curricula with Brendan or Clare, who are now 19 and 17. By that time I'd heard of Charlotte Mason and her methods seemed much more compatible with how I wanted to do things.

I had learned to write by copywork and storywriting and little nature writings I did in the summers when I was very young. I liked to make little books which I sewed or stapled together and decorated. When I was very little, my mom read to me a lot and traced out letters for me to copy until I could write on my own. So that's basically how I did it with my kids. They narrated -- not much, but a bit. They did copywork; again, not much, but a bit. They made maps and scrawled little stories on index cards, or sometimes rolled papers and drawings up into scrolls. They played pretend games by the hour and sometimes audiotaped or videotaped their plays.

I wrote down their stories or journals, sometimes, or labeled their pictures, and collected their work into binders. Brendan and Clare gained fluency in reading by telling me stories that I would type, then have them read back to me. As they got older, they kept their own notebooks and labeled their own pictures. All this never seemed like "enough", but somehow, all my older kids became effective writers.

At some point Brendan seemed "stuck" in his writing. He was at a perfectionist age and had just transitioned from all-caps to a legible italics, but he wasn't yet fluent. Liam had become more interested in serious academics, and was writing a few papers for his "studies", but was no longer doing much creative writing. So I started a daily "free writing" -- we'd all gather for 20 minutes before lunch, and the pre-readers could draw. Even I had to write during this time. It was time that was difficult for me to spare, since Aidan was a medically high needs toddler and I was pregnant with Paddy, but I thought it was important to be there too, participating, not skipping down the hall to fold the laundry.

I also had several "writer" type books around the house from my college days. I strewed these and the kids picked them up and read them, at least some of them. The feedback I got back later was that they often disagreed with the writer's advice, but still, these books gave the kids a chance to "converse" mentally with a writing teacher, and pick and choose what they wanted to try out. The authors who write these "writer's manuals" do have their peculiarities and flaws like everyone else of course, but they don't patronize the young writer quite as much as the standard children's textbook on how to write. I don't think it's necessary to read any of these types of books, and authors like Flannery O'Connor will tell you it could be dangerous, but at least the kids have the freedom to pick and choose their "teachers" here.

Eventually, the free writing period was dropped because it was no longer necessary. From there, all the kids embarked on abundant writing -- opinion pieces, journalling, stories, and creative "newspapers". They haven't looked back. All have their own "style" and their own particular strengths.

It was right after this "free writing" interim in our lives that I started experimenting with the progym. I am sketching out all the things that came before, because I do think the progym ought to rest upon a base similar to the Bravewriter one -- upon experience in creative playing, lots of reading and sharing stories, and some fluency and joy in expression (both written and oral). So I am writing this out partly in order to remind myself -- because whenever I start poring through curricula, I get a queasy, discouraged feeling -- probably another reason I'm interested in classical/CM/unschooling, because teacher's manuals are less necessary when you are learning from real books, real pen and paper, and real life.

So my goal is to use the curricula as a resource, not let it take over my life. When I get that queasy feeling, it's time to do something different for a while!

(Paddy's next to me, poring over the "Tour of the Summa", asking me to read chapter titles like "The Equality of the Three Divine Persons", then making up elaborate stories within the book -- I heard mention of alligators being found -- ST Thomas would probably be surprised to know what could be read from the pages of his work!)

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