Review: Intermediate Language Lessons Level One/Grade 4, by Caitilin Fiona

 

I have been familiar with and a big fan of Intermediate Language Lessons for at least five years. Imagine my pleasure upon receiving this new workbook format of the same material!

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Cynthia Albright has done an excellent job of reformatting a beautiful vintage work into a beautiful modern one. She has kept all of the original ease of use — lessons written to the student, seemingly simple assignments that deepen the child’s understanding of English — with the addition of modern formatting into a workbook, and small corrections in things like the forms of street addresses which have naturally changed since the original was published.

In addition, the lessons focus on beautiful things: those of nature, giving attention to topics like birds, plants, and the natural world generally; and those of humanity, giving the student examples of pretty pictures for picture study, and poems to be familiar with or memorized.

I will be honest that in some places, the old-fashioned prettiness can become overwhelming, especially in the picture study pages; but this can be remedied either by choosing an alternate picture for the child to study, or by skipping those assignments. I have done both.

My children like the ease with which they can both understand the lessons, and use the workbook format that allows them to keep all their grammar and English work in one neat place. The only way that this could be improved, in my view, is by having the option to purchase a bound version of the workbook; in our family we have a tendency to lose loose leaf pages, no matter how carefully filed in binders.

In short, this new updated workbook format of Intermediate Language Lessons is a winner, requiring little to no parent prep, yet providing a solid and manageable level of work from the students at a very affordable price of $8.95. I am pleased to give it my warmest recommendation.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review on the Sandbox to Socrates blog. Opinions expressed in this review are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Sandbox to Socrates blog. I received no compensation for this review, nor was I required to write a positive review. This disclosure is in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

 

Caitilincaitlin_fiona Fiona–Caitilin is the mother of six children, ranging from high school down to early elementary, all of whom she has homeschooled from the beginning. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include languages, literature, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.

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Mathematics Education in the Era of the Common Core, by Caitilin Fiona

 

 

Dear Caitilin, Why is today’s elementary level math so confusing? Has mathematics education always been this controversial?

Common Core! State Standards! Testing! These are the hot issues in mathematics education in our times, and they are issues we hear about daily, on the news, on Facebook, from our friends. All these ideas arise out of the good intention to see that America’s children are educated for success in today’s world. Of course, the reality is far from that utopian vision. One problem is that it is not the case that implementing the standards associated with the Common Core inevitably raises educational standards. A friend in Indiana, for instance, realized that in her district, which is not a stellar one, the Common Core standards were appreciably lower than the previous, but recently revamped, ones. Indiana has now opted to drop the standards mandated by the Common Core, and once again developed its own State Standards for mathematics education.

There is a sense, a sense based in fact, I hasten to add, that a sizable population of parents in the United States are all up in arms, reacting and railing against the changes to education resulting from school districts’ aligning their curriculum with the Common Core standards. Often they receive the response, “If you don’t like what’s happening in the public schools, pull your kids out. Send them to private school, or homeschool!” But many of those who rail against common core already are homeschooling; they rail precisely because of those not-their-own children who haven’t got other options; they rail on behalf of kids whose parents may not be able to help them negotiate a new method for doing the math problems they come home with at night. It’s not that the only complainers are those who have kids in the system; in fact, many from outside the system see things about it that concern them, and seek to have their concerns addressed for the sake of those who cannot seek redress for themselves.

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A friend of mine recently wrote an impassioned Facebook post in support of the methods for teaching mathematics which correspond with Common Core standards. She rejoiced in the fact that her daughter was unfazed by either new material or by word problems because she could just “get out her tools” (number lines, tally marks, etc.) and plow ahead. This is wonderful–it IS extremely satisfying to see one’s children learning, to see them achieving academic success–and nothing I say here is to downplay the importance of that success in children’s lives.

However, there are a couple of problems with her statement:

1) Why on earth would/should her daughter freak out when presented with new material? Who told her that word problems were hard, and worthy of a freak-out?
2) Why should she need “tools” to work through problems in material and concepts she, presumably, has been introduced to and understands, simply because it is presented in word problem form? These tools, increasingly, are taking the place of conceptual or practical understanding of mathematical ideas.

Let’s remember, first off, that all these tools that the kids are being given are just that, tools. They are just tools, approaches, methods. Using any particular “tool” oughtn’t to be held up as an end in itself, and any given “tool” ought be used to build mathematical fluency, so that the students can move away from needing them. Otherwise the use of the “tools” can too easily become nothing more than a glorified version of counting on one’s fingers–fine in kindergarten, not so fine in 7th grade. The idea is that the students are to know a variety of ways to approach a problem, and implement the one that best suits the problem itself, as well as their own learning style. Again, this is fine; any good math teacher has always demonstrated various methods for arriving at correct answers. The problem lies in placing use of a particular method ahead of the result.

The math program I use at home with my children, for instance, makes a point of teaching multiple approaches to problems. Teaching multiple approaches is not an issue. But when Approach A is privileged over Approach B simply because A is new and B is old, that IS a problem. The purpose is to be able to do arithmetic, exercise logic, perform higher mathematical operations, whatever–in other words, to be educated in the concepts. The purpose of math class is NOT to demonstrate whether you’ve fully grasped every possible strategy for approaching the problem. Once you’ve got one that works for you, great, use it! But requiring every student to solve problems in the same way just because that’s THE tool of the day is silly.

In the end, though, I believe our concerns about mathematics education are misplaced. It’s not simply the standards set by the Common Core that are the problem; rather, it is a group of inferior math curricula which are often, perhaps even usually, taught by teachers ill-prepared to do so that should worry parents. When students are never exposed to an efficient method for performing mathematical operations, hearing instead sentiments like “Don’t worry about getting the right answer, just see what you can do,” then parents should worry. When we no longer teach math, but only play in it as in a sandpile, shifting its beautiful principles to suit our own laziness–it is then that we should be fearful.

 

Caitilin Fiona–Caitilin is the mother of six children, ranging from high school down to early elementary, all of whom scaitlin_fionahe has homeschooled from the beginning. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include languages, literature, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.

Understood Betsy and Me: Why I Homeschool, by Caitilin Fiona

 

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Understood Betsy is one of those books. Those books are the ones that help to form and inform your life in some serious way. In my case, Betsy has informed both my parenting and my homeschooling, which is a bit odd, now that I think about it: there’re no parents and definitely no homeschooling in it at all! What is central to the book, though, is self-knowledge and strength: that is, the strength of character that self-knowledge brings with it. It is a very dated novel, to be sure; it is highly moralizing, and the author constantly intrudes upon the story, just to be completely sure you’re not missing the point she’s making. But in spite of these flaws, or perhaps, strangely, even because of them, it has been for me an effective philosophical treatise on the goals of child-rearing.

The first and central truth Betsy teaches is the vital place of unconditional love in the soul of a child. Betsy is first loved unconditionally by her Putney cousins, for though Aunt Frances, her first primary caregiver, loves her, it is as an extension of herself, not as the separate and whole person that is Betsy. It is from the deep, strong, solid but unspoken love of Ann, Abigail, and Henry that Betsy draws her strength. This is the parental love I’ve striven to give to my own children, and to share with my students. I believe in them, and as I do, they’ve not disappointed me.

My believing in my children and in my students is manifested in the fact that I see them and, consequently, treat them as real people. By this I mean that I try not to talk down to them, and that I try to engage them as much as I can on an equal footing, just as Abigail and Henry do when they teach Betsy how to make butter. They teach her by showing her how it is done, and then by letting her do it herself, because they believe that she is capable of it. I never assume that something is beyond them, and they, like Betsy, rise to meet the challenge.

In contrast to Abigail and Henry’s sensible and loving attitude, Aunt Frances has always tried to prevent Betsy from doing anything for herself, preferring instead to cultivate in her the permanent feeling of fearful helplessness which mirrors Frances’ own experience of the world. She is the ultimate in helicopter parenting: nothing, from food to dreams, from school to music, is Betsy allowed to experience unmediated. In Frances we are shown what Betsy herself would have become if she had never met her Putney cousins and the freedom they share with her.

Betsy is able to receive this freedom from her new family because they get out of the way, out of the way of her learning and experiencing the world on its, and her, own terms. This is something for which I reach in my parenting and in my homeschooling. When I get out of the way, I give my five year-old the space to investigate how shadows work by lying in the sun, moving a Playmobil figure into different attitudes; I give my teenagers the space to explore and develop their relationship with God and toward faith. Home education is at least as much about what is not said as what is.

The deepest lesson I’ve learned from Understood Betsy, though, has to do with self-reliance. From Cousin Ann, Betsy has learned the great lesson of how to face trouble straight on. She saved Molly from the Wolf Pit, because she was able to think critically, and rely on her own judgment. She was able to get herself and Molly home from the fair when they’d been left behind because she used what modern educators like to call problem solving skills and creativity, and relied on herself. Finally, she has learned to rely on herself in that most complex and hard-to-navigate strait–human relationships–when she saves herself and Aunt Frances from the struggle that would have been their reunited lives, and she does so with kindness and love. This development and use of one’s own good judgment is what I pray for and work toward with my own children. It is the final and most important lesson that Betsy shares with us.

In my view, self-reliance is what makes us homeschoolers, and good ones. Homeschooling is being “in no grade at all!” all the time, but as we travel down our paths toward the goal of well-educated children, we, like Betsy, come to see that the names of grades, levels, styles, and curricula don’t matter. What does matter is the progress we have made and continue to make toward the goal, relying on our children, ourselves, and their and our own good sense. We can–in fact, we should, we must!–learn from our foremothers, and from our fellow travelers. But in the end, we all must “walk that lonesome valley…nobody else can walk it for [us], [we] got to walk it [for ourselves].” For though the valley can sometimes be lonesome, it is ours, and we should walk through it smiling and confident.

Ask Caitilin: Finding a Homeschool Support Group

 

Question:

Where and how do I find a homeschool group? What is a co-op and why would I want to join one?

Answer:

Homeschool Support Groups

You can find a homeschool group in several ways. (I found mine by accident, but I don’t recommend that as a search strategy!) The first question is, do you know any homeschoolers, even if only tenuously? If you do, ask them. They may not be your “type” of homeschooler, but chances are good that they know at least the names of other homeschool groups in your area, and often can direct you to a knowledgeable person in one those groups.

The second thing to try is to get on the Google and search “homeschool group, Your City.” You may not have success if homeschooling is still relatively small and/or new in your community, or if no one locally has the skill or inclination to have set up a website, but this is a good second bet. Another possibility is meetup.com, where people can create their own groups for any purpose imaginable, including homeschooling. Also, check Facebook! With the advent of Facebook groups, this has become a popular and effective way for like-minded people to find one another.

My last suggestion is to ask around in your community. If you belong to a religious community, ask there. Check with the children’s librarians at your local library–it’s very likely they see any homeschoolers there are! Try the community center(s) in the area, or any other place open to the public with space available for group use. Basically, ask around!

Co-ops

Co-ops are cooperative endeavors of parents who jointly provide educational and enrichment activities for their children in a group learning environment. The reasons for joining a co-op are that some activities work better–or in some cases only–in a group context; that a parent may feel ill-equipped to provide instruction in a particular area, such as art or music or science; that it provides to students, and often to parents, a social outlet with people who share a large common value.

You might want to join a co-op if your children are feeling isolated, or if you wish they could participate in, say, choral music. You might want to join one if you feel as if you never see an adult from one week’s end to the next. You might want to participate in a strong academic co-op with teachers hired to teach classes in their areas of expertise.

One caveat: sometimes co-ops sound better than they actually end up being. If you try one, but soon find yourself wishing you you’d never heard of the dratted thing, then quit! It’s not worth it to devote your time and energy to something that isn’t working for you. Homeschooling can look many different ways, and because Co-op ABC makes your friends happy and successful homeschoolers doesn’t mean it will do the same for you. Know yourself, and join or don’t join accordingly.

Homeschool groups and co-ops can be a real safety net of sanity for homeschoolers, mothers and children alike, especially in the first years, when so much is new and uncharted. If you can, I would encourage you to join a group, just to plug in to the the assets available to homeschoolers in your community. From there, you might like to join a co-op, and take advantage of the opportunities for group studies and activities. If nothing else, it may be worthwhile to find an online community to go to for support, as occasionally classical homeschoolers find themselves in the minority in their local homeschool communities. But whatever you decide, choose the right fit for your own family and homeschool, and be at peace.

Caitilcaitlin_fionain Fiona–Caitilin is the mother of six children, ranging from high school down to early elementary, all of whom she has homeschooled from the beginning. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include languages, literature, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.

A New Feature at StS: Ask A Veteran Homeschooler!

 

Caitilin Fiona is an experienced homeschooling mother of six. In the coming year she will take time out of her busy schedule to answer your questions about classical home education. All topics are welcome! If Caitilin Fiona doesn’t know the answer, she’ll find it. Please submit your  “Ask Caitilin Fiona” questions on our Facebook page, Sandbox to Socrates.

Question: Do we NEED to do Latin? I can’t even get spelling done!

Answer: Well, yes and no. Of course your child can get along in the world just fine, as you yourself have likely done, with nary a word of Latin. But should he have to do so? That is a different question. There are many reasons given for studying Latin; I’m not going to re-enumerate them all here, but I will give you some things to think over.

To begin with, that spelling you’re not getting done? It will almost certainly improve with your child’s study of Latin. As he becomes more familiar with Latin vocabulary and its English derivatives, he will begin remembering that certain English words share patterns with simpler but related Latin words, and improve his spelling fluency and accuracy. He should have the opportunity to study Latin while he’s still forming his grasp on English spelling in order to give him the tool for breaking down words into their base components.

A different but related benefit will be that his spoken vocabulary will be enriched by increasing familiarity with Latin words. As we are constantly reminded, English draws a large proportion of its vocabulary, especially its higher-powered, more academic words, from Latin. By developing greater vocabulary, or as German has it, “Wortschatz” or “word treasure,” his capacity for nuanced expression will grow in proportion to the treasure he’s accumulated. Having the capacity for both nuanced understanding and competent use of words will give the student a significant advantage when he is required to write substantial academic essays–a deeper vocabulary will permit him to formulate more thoughtful ideas as he moves into the high school years and beyond.

The last thing I’d say about the value of studying Latin is this: it prepares the mind and lays groundwork for logical thought. In learning Latin, the student learns how to perceive and sort patterns into intelligible chunks, then to create from those patterns a new one of his own making. This is a skill that will become more and more useful as the student progresses though his education: algebra, geometry, formal logic, academic writing, computer programming, higher mathematics–all of these use the same kind of thought processes that a good Latin program teaches. Preparing your student’s mind for advanced academics is no small feat, but it is one which Latin makes easier.

Five Tips for Making Homeschooling Easier, by Caitilin Fiona

 

When you are homeschooling, especially early on, life can often be overwhelming, and the advice you may receive is often equally so. Bearing both of these things in mind, I would like to offer five small tips that I have found make homeschooling easier. Please, take from this what you find useful, and leave the rest behind! No one has all the answers, and each of us has our own challenges to face; if even one thing here is helpful to you, that’s a win for us both.

1. Plan your meals, all your meals.

This is something I wish I had done many, many years ago, for though I’ve only been at it for about six months it has hugely improved our family’s diet and budget. Nowadays, I sit down on a Friday night or a Saturday morning and decide what we are going to eat for each meal for the next week. In the interest of frugality, I have switched our breakfasts from cold cereal and toast/bagels to hot cereal or eggs every day. I plan which of the five or six options for hot cereal we will have, taking into consideration what we will be eating later on each day. Thus, if we have cream of rice for breakfast, I’m not going to serve black beans and rice for supper, etc. From there, I go on to plan the rest of the week’s meals, giving thought to what we had last week, what is on sale at the grocery store, and whether each day will be busy or relaxed.
A couple of websites I have found very useful are www.budgetbytes.com, which has a fabulous selection of different types of meals on a very reasonable budget, and www.soscuisine.com, a Canadian meal-planning site, which has both free and paid subscriptions and an interesting variety of recipes; it is also often less meat-heavy than many American options I’ve seen.

2. Have assigned chores, for you and for your kids.

As a homeschool parent, often you’ll have the lion’s share of household tasks. However, you can significantly lighten your burden without overloading your children by giving each assigned tasks to complete daily. The reason to assign them is that old saw about how Anybody could have done the job, and Everybody thought Somebody would do the job, but in fact, Nobody did it. If five-year-old Charles knows it’s his job to feed the dog and set the table, and nine-year-old Helen knows it’s hers to unload the dishwasher, and so on, then all those necessary things are done, and done with minimal argument, because everyone knows that there’re plenty of jobs to go around. Mom (or Dad) is then freer to focus on the larger-scale aspects of running the home and the homeschool, using timely reminders, rather than having to newly assign every task to someone as the day goes on.

3. Work for finite periods, both daily and in the longer term.

Homeschooling is a tough gig: though the rewards are great, the pay is miserable and the hours are often long. One way to help counteract these long hours is to decide to only work on school for limited periods of time. To begin with, decide on a time when you’ll be finished for the day, even if you’ve not accomplished everything you wanted to do.
At my house, we school from 8:30 to about 3:30, with an hour for lunch in there somewhere. If you have only young children then your day will be shorter, and if older the day can often be longer, but whatever your cut off time is, stick to it. Older kids can work on schoolwork as homework later, after supper for instance, but you and they both need a break.
In the grander scheme, it has been very beneficial to our homeschool to have finite schooling periods after which we have a small vacation. In some years, we have divided our year into quarters, with ending points at Halloween, Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, and summer. More recently, we have shifted to a six weeks on, one week off schedule. For us this has been a wonderful change, as it allows us the freedom of more frequent breaks without getting behind.
These are just two of the myriad scheduling options you can choose from, but whatever you choose, make sure you schedule in breaks–you and your children will be thankful.

4. Say NO to outside activities.

It is often tempting as a homeschooler to try to take advantage of every educational opportunity that presents itself to your attention. Resist this temptation. While a couple of outside-the-house activities are very enriching, maybe even necessary, to the homeschool, undertake too many and you’re dooming yourself to failure. You will find that you’re doing fine for a while, a month or two maybe, but as time wears on, you’ll soon start to dread every trip, consumed with worry that you’re falling behind, with the feeling that you’re failing your kids’ education, and generally succumbing to serious stress. Don’t do it. Thoughtfully consider where your and your children’s time is best spent, and spend it there–not in the car.

5. Take time for yourself.

I know, I know, this is trite, and everyone says it ALL.THE.TIME. But you know why? Because it is pure and simple TRUTH. You must take some amount of time away. This can be very simple and functional, as a weekly grocery-and-necessities shopping trip. It can be a monthly book club, craft evening, or Bible study. It may be a daily exercise regimen, or a once a year trip to a homeschooling conference. Maybe you go have hot chocolate by yourself at Barnes and Noble for an hour twice a month. But whatever your preference for spending time with yourself (and other adults), do it. It is not a luxury, it isn’t selfish; it is necessary to have the small breaks that give you the oomph to return to your day job.

Caitilin Fiona is a homeschooling mother of six children, ranging from sixteen year old twins down to a five year old. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include language and languages, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.

How We Made Our Own History Year: Native American Studies

By Caitilin Fiona

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As I was contemplating my son’s fourth grade and my daughter’s third grade history options (they do most of their subjects together, being at basically the same level, though twenty months apart in age), nothing was capturing my fancy. I was not even a little bit excited about studying and teaching through the “history cycle,” though I do think it an excellent organizing principle in general. Somehow, I just couldn’t get my head in the right space for it. At that same time, I happened upon a book at my local library, in the New Titles section. This was The Story of The American Indian, written by Sydney Fletcher. I took it home and spent some time with it, thinking as I did so that it would make an excellent text for a co-op class. Finally, the penny dropped: I could organize my OWN history program, using this book as a text! I dove into planning, head first.

My first stop was the education boards on the Well-Trained Mind Forum, where I read and solicited opinions on which books were suitably unbiased, and at the right level. Taking what I had gleaned there, I moved on to purchasing my books.

First, naturally, I bought The Story of the American Indian, as it was the title that started it all. Of all the books I bought, it is the most challenging to read for an elementary student. I planned to (and did!) read it aloud, for the most part. The other two texts I bought were The Indian Book, a Childcraft Annual book from 1980, and The Real Book About Indians, a 1950s era book for children by Franklin Folsom. These books I supplemented with the picture encyclopedia of First People, by David C. King.

Now that I had all my materials in hand, I had to decide how to divvy them up appropriately for our school year. [A couple of years ago I had switched our school year from the quarter system to a “six weeks on, one week off” system, labeled A through F, so I had to divide up the books both according to region and to sixths.] I divided the school year into eleven subject groups:

–Native American Immigration and Origins

–Southeast Tribal Groups

–Northeast Tribal Groups

–Great Plains Tribal Groups

–Southwest Tribal Groups

–Central and South American Tribal Groups

–Great Basin Tribal Groups

–Pacific Northwest and Plateau Tribal Groups

–California Tribal Groups

–Arctic Tribal Groups

–Caribbean Tribal Groups

I took each book individually and found and labeled the chapters according to which of these sections it would fall into. In none of the books were we able to proceed straight through from beginning to end, but had to jump around, often quite a lot, unfortunately. However, it seemed to me to make the most sense to have the whole year be coherent rather than any single title in itself. In the end, it worked out fairly well, as I made up a schedule where I wrote down the chapters from each book that related to each topic, and the weeks in which each would be studied.

So in section A we studied the Native American immigration and origins and the tribes of the Southeast. Section B was devoted entirely to the tribal groups of the Northeast, while C was dedicated to studying the peoples of the Great Plains. After our Christmas break, we learned about the tribes of the Southwest for all of section D. In E we covered the Central and South American native peoples, as well as those of the Great Basin. The last section was an overview of five different tribal groups: the Pacific Northwest, the Plateau, the California, the Arctic, and the Caribbean.

Clearly, there was a great deal more information on some tribal groups than others, but I was not troubled by this as there is no perfect system for any historical endeavor, and this was merely an elementary level overview.

As we read each new chapter, my children wrote narrations of what they had learned. This exercise gave me new insight into how difficult a skill to acquire this can be, but with perseverance, they improved a great deal.

Caitilin Fiona is a homeschooling mother of six children, ranging from sixteen year old twins down to a five year old. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include language and languages, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.