Plague Journal, Catechesis & Socialization Edition

Plague Journal as a theme is getting mighty old.  Good news: After asking a few friends to pray, I’ve upgraded from “death warmed over” to “death minced with bacon and turned into a proper hash, thank you very much.”  So I’m back to writing stuff again, that’s good.

Meanwhile, since you’re reading this it means you either have time to pray more, or else you have something dreadful to offer up. I’m asking specifically for prayers that: (a) I’ll get an accurate dx on this most recent round o’ plague, and (b) that I’ll get done everything I need to do.  The stuff I don’t need to do? Whatever.  Just the important things, thanks, that’s all I’m asking for.

Meanwhile, some things I wrote before this bout set in quite so aggressively:

At CatholicMom.Com, I answer the old “socialization” question.  I know. I thought I didn’t care about that argument anymore,either.  Then I saw a real live human being worry about it. So it became a topic again.

And if that doesn’t raise your blood pressure enough, at AmazingCatechists.com, I wade into the raging debate over whether we ought to have religious education classes for children at all. Lisa Mladnich tells me I’m insightful and clear-thinking, so that settles it.  Read the other opinions, than go see my article to find out what you’re really supposed to think.

2013 Homeschooling / Kolbe Review Update

I’ve gotten a few requests for updates, so it’s about time. One mega-post to cover four kids, all subjects.  Here’s what we’ve got going for 2013-2014, and how we like it so far.  Quick version: Two bigs are in 8th and 6th, enrolled with Kolbe but doing varying amounts of the program.  Littles (4th & 2nd) are freelancing with a variety  of stuff, increasingly workbook-y, because that’s my life.

Long Version

Grammar: Mr. Boy is doing 8th grade per Kolbe, Voyages in English (now called “Lepanto English” I believe.)  Grammar nerd that I am, I still like it.

6th Grader is sitting through a year of Classical Conversation’s “Essentials” course, which is an exacting (some would say: exasperating) tour of grammar and heavy-handed editing.  It suits her fine, in an anything-that-doesn’t-kill-you way, but we’ll be back to Voyages next year.  NB: Classical Conversations has a strongly, strongly protestant world view.  Just sayin’.  FYI, I’m happy we are doing the class, it serves our purposes.

4th and 2nd Grader are doing the Language of God workbooks from Catholic Heritage Curriculum.  They don’t like them, because they don’t like anything in the genre, but I do.  Heavy on the Catholic-ness, makes Voyages/Lepanto look like secular city.  I’m good with that.

Vocabulary / Spelling: 8th & 6th grader continue with Kolbe’s recommended vocabulary book.  I remain very happy with it, and they seem to do pretty well and not mind it.  Littles are using CHC’s Speller, same comment as per above.  The CHC 4th grade program is a much lighter program than the Sadlier-Oxford Vocabulary.

For phonics / word study, all three girls are going with the Kolbe-default, MCP plaid.  I continue to like it very much.  We skip some of the exercises that aren’t my favorite though, usually the “write a letter to your friend . . . ” ones. We’re in it for the phonics.

Geography: Kolbe changed their geography book, and I haven’t seen the new one.  I like the old one so much I bought the levels I didn’t have on clearance from the friendly Kolbe bookstore lady.  But we’re in an off-year for geography, too much going on elsewhere.  We’ll be back at it next year.

History: I’m sticking with my program of keeping all kids on the same general history topic.  They are anchored to Mr. Boy, who is in 8th grade and finishing out with American this year, and then he’ll be back to Greek next year.  Doing the four year cycle of Greek-Roman-Middle-Modern works pretty well for us.  We aren’t the kind of people who would fail to study Africa and Asia just because no one made us.  So, what it looks like textbook-wise:

8th Grader is doing Christ in the Americas, per the Kolbe plans.  He complains it’s all pro-Catholic agitiprop, but I like that.  (It is a survey of American History, but with a strongly Catholic orientation.)  He did Christ the King Lord of History last year, same complaints / parental approval.  Tip: Kolbe publishes two sets of course plans for these — one for middle school, one for high school.  If you aren’t sure what to choose, you can request both (if you’re enrolled), then take a look and see which is a better fit.

6th Grader is doing CHC’s From Sea to Shining Sea. Alert: There are other US History books with the same general title.  Make sure you pick the correct one.  We like it very much — colorful, informative, readable, happily Catholic. She likes this better than last year’s Founders of Freedom, which was a little too vintage black-n-white for her tastes.  Since she has a lot of work in other subjects, I’m just having her read the text (we did not purchase the workbook, teacher’s manual, etc.) and do one project a quarter for tangible work for the portfolio.

I was stymied on where to find suitable US History texts for the littles until I got to look through Seton’s table at the IHM Conference this summer.  My 4th grader is reading through both books 4 & 5 this year (Seton divides US history over two years), and the 2nd grader is reading book 1.  They are doing personal-choice reading to go with, heavy on American Girls novels and the like.

Religion.  I love Faith and Life.  Very happy with what Kolbe does there.  All four kids are on the program.  And I don’t care what anyone says, the Baltimore Catechism is one handy book.  I approve.  We fill out those two with lives of saints in literature or normal life.

Bible History. Kolbe makes this a  separate junior high class from either religion or history, it does a survey of the Bible spanning two years.  I’m happy with it, as far as it goes. There are workbooks for both this and Anne Carroll’s American history books mentioned above, and they are good for drilling memorization of key facts.  The boy is also reading through the Bible with the SuperHusband: I wouldn’t do *only* a survey book at this age, anyone reading on grade level should at least be doing the Mass readings, if not going through the Bible directly.

For the girls, 6th grader has split the The Catholic Bible Story Workbook from Fireside over two years, and she really enjoys it.  There’s no reason you’d need to stretch it that much, it could be easily completed in one year.  She gets to stretch it because I’m doing that coordinated-topics thing.  Littles are getting a read-aloud from a children’s Bible.

Latin. The outcome of my Latin Drama is reported here and here, and elsewhere as well, I’m sure.  Short version: We don’t attend Latin Mass.  So although I admire Kolbe’s go-to textbook, it wasn’t working for us.  What does work:

  • Visual Latin (8th grader)
  • Latin’s Not so Tough (6th grader’s in book 3 this year)
  • Song School Latin (all girls like it – the Monkey!)
  • Mr. Dunphy.  Everyone likes that one.

Mr. Boy is also rounding out his work with an assortment of reading from Familia Romana and the odd exercise from the Oxford Latin Course, which I still think is cool.

Head’s up on foreign languages: Next year we resume French.  We won’t be dropping Latin altogether, but I’m not going to push the boy through three consecutive years of More Rigorous Latin for high school credit purposes.  He’ll do a modest amount of Latin for an elective, and French for his official college-admission-worthy language study.  I have no idea what books I’ll use.  Something inexpensive, I think.  Normal people should not get ideas from me.

Math.  Still happy with Math-U-See.  We’re like that.

Science. Mr. Boy is doing Physical Science per Kolbe, and it seems to be going pretty well.  Not a lot to report.  It’s a science book.  You read it, you do the work.  We haven’t had our giant Festival of Laboratory Activities yet.  It’s coming.  Probably over Christmas break.  NB: Some of the labs are definitely of the type you might want a scientist around to help you with.

Meanwhile, the girls are doing Classically Catholic Memory, because that’s what happened to us, happy accident.  My friend is teaching a 30-minute science activities class once a week at our new co-op, and it follows that program.  So for the girls’ science, I dug through my textbook collection (a combination of Kolbe’s go-to and ancient freebie copies of Abeka books, mostly), and picked out reading assignments that correspond with their work each week.

–> CCM is also providing quite a bit of supplemental work in everything — Literature, history, math, religion, Latin, geography etc etc.

Composition.  The boy is excused from the Kolbe composition book (Sadlier-Oxford – no complaints) because he has to endure my homegrown editing class once a week.  We’ll go back to stock plans on that next year.  6th grader is excused since she’s doing IEW with Classical Conversations.  We’ll go back to default for her as well.  Littles are just writing stuff.  They’re still little.

About IEW, what you need to know:

1. The instruction videos are so painfully mind-numbingly boring that strong language is probably appropriate.  All the CC moms have to watch them.  I write other things (rough drafts for CatholicMom.com columns, usually) during all the minutes that the video guy is belaboring his points.  There *is* useful stuff, but it’s a ratio of 5 minutes of useful for 30 minutes of pre-purgatory.  I jot down the useful bits and then go back to thinking about something other than elephant essays.  Yes.  Elephants.  I never, ever, want to see another elephant essay again in my life.  NB: If you were not a professional writer, you might find the hand-holding helpful.

1A.  Why yes, I realize the internet it littered with poorly-edited work of mine.  Knowing what to do is different from doing it.  I seem to recall a line in The Merchant of Venice to that end, pronounced just before splashdown.

2. The course calls for certain writing techniques that would make many an editor cry.  Mandatory use of “ly” words, changing out “said” for assorted exclamations and whispers and murmurs and so forth .  . . let us say: stylistically heavy-handed.  If you treat IEW as the last course you ever take before you submit your manuscript, people will laugh at you.  BUT it is fantabulous for teaching you to control your words and ideas.  If you don’t learn to develop the word control that IEW teaches, editors won’t just laugh at you, they’ll stick your stuff in the garbage while they do it.

3. So it’s basically like barre exercises, or push-ups, or C-warm-ups.  You train certain skills into mastery, so that you can call on them easily when you need them.  I like IEW for that.  That’s why were doing it.  Also, if you never ever plan to become a professional writer, you can learn IEW and you work will be organized, coherent, and suitably edited for everyday use.

4. The people who make the student book we’re using don’t know much about the Catholic faith.  Sometimes we laugh at them.  And then I have to go to confession for uncharitable thoughts.  So I won’t name that book here.

5. But hey, one of our parish co-op moms is an IEW instructor, and she’s going to maybe I hope offer the class next year, Catholic version. So then we can have our writing drills without the weird historical errors.  I like that.  I think for most kids, IEW is a class you could take once, or take once every few years.  Or you could do something else that’s just as good.

Literature.  So.  Literature.  Lots of stuff going on there.  8th and 6th grader are doing one book a quarter off the Kolbe course plans for their respective grades.  To fill that out:

-Both are reading selections from assorted historical works, as found in Classical Conversations’ handy Prescripts book, American History edition.

-Mr. Boy is reading a selection from CC’s Documents book as well.  It’s a high school book, for sure.  Most kids would not be reading this at his age, he is not normal.  He also has a mom-assigned book each quarter.  Q1 was The Fallacy Detective, Q2 is Frank Sheed’s A Map of Life.  He just reads those, no extra writing work.

-6th grader is reading mom-chosen selections from Book Six of the National Catholic Reader for her extra history-related literature reading.

They both read this and that for their own enjoyment as well.  Not necessarily high art, but I can work with it. Underhanded Mom Trick: If you read a book your kids would like if only they didn’t fear it was educational, don’t let them read it.  Lend it to their friends.  Then when it comes back, they’ll be curious.

2nd & 4th graders have mandatory self-selected reading from either National Catholic Reader or McGuffy, per their grade levels, one day a week.  They do other student’s-choice reading the other days, and CCM includes some poetry in its memory work.

Art: I’m not unschooling art this year!  My friend is teaching an art class at the co-op, using Catholic Schoolhouse’s art book (year 2).  We like it.  Very amateur-friendly.  Underhanded Mom Trick: I picked up some beautiful beautiful beautiful art-appreciation books from Seton this summer.  Then I lent them to the art teacher.  Because it’s much more interesting if it’s a book that Mrs. A uses, and not one that nutso mom-person says is so good.

Handwriting: I am not a successful handwriting teacher. If you have ever seen my handwriting, you understand why.  Pay no attention to me.  But my naturally-talented, crafty and feminine handwriting girl learned cursive using Cheerful Cursive and she liked it fine.

Whew.  That’s enough for now. Did I miss any subjects? See the whole series here.

***
Something Funny: WordPress has started putting ads in the free blogs (like this one).  Which appear to this blogger as ads for WordPress’s paid services.  Sometimes I wonder what you see.  If you see something objectionable, do tell me.  I don’t pick the ads.  I am good at complaining on your behalf (and mine) as needed.

At CMOM – Why Your Town Needs a Catholic Homeschooling Cooperative

In which I share one of those stories about things that you know happen, but are kinda hard to believe.  This is not the reason my parish started our little homeschooling group.  We got started because I’m a slacker-mom who needs people to keep me honest, and other people I know are smart, sociable, diligent, and gullible.  But the little excommunication incident the other week affirmed for me that we were providing a desperately needed service.

The article has a pile of links for those who think maybe they’d like to get something started, but aren’t really sure what to do or how to do it.

Enjoy!

Quick Kolbe note: Online Classes for High School

For those who missed it, Kolbe Academy is offering a slate of online classes for high school this fall.  Looks promising.

Other items of note:

I have no direct experience with any of these, but I’d wager they’re all good.  Credible sources.  Worth a look if you need some other adult to keep your student moving forward.  Or if you need to make the switch to homeschooling, but really you can’t homeschool, it’s just that there isn’t something else.

***

Have another good tip? This is your explicit invitation to share worthwhile homeschooling links in the combox. For your own program or anyone else’s.  Have at it.

Bleg – Starting High School Homeschooling Mid-Year

From a reader in the comboxes:

Hi Jennifer,
We have decided to start homeschooling mid year for our son who is in 10th grade. He previously attended a private high school.
I am a newby and i am looking for structure without stress.
Any ideas?
peace~anne

Any suggestions?  Post in the combox or at your place and leave Anne a link so she can find you, please! 

Rebecca Frech I am talking to you.  Bearing, you’ve got a mind from these things, speak up. 

Everyone, Who else should we tag? Darwins?  Brandon? Anna? Christian? Anyone?  Bueller?

***

My thought would be to take his course load from school, and do a subject-by-subject picking of a decent text book?  Something like this:

Math:  Pick an appealing program, ideally something that uses DVD or computer instruction so you aren’t doing it yourself.  Figure out where to start mid-year by doing sampling of the end-of-chapter questions until it gets to new stuff.  (You may need to back-up and review select topics from early chapters that the school was going to introduce later in the year.)  If money is tight, math books is where I’d risk the biggest investment, if you come across something that is good but expensive.

Science:  Do part 2 of his current-year subject (biology probably?), using a text book that meets his general aptitude.  As you read reviews, you’ll hear about some that are more rigorous, some that are “too easy”, etc.  Try to aim for a ‘just right’ for his science abilities, challenging enough to be interesting, but not overwhelming.   If he’s already in chemistry, either continue with it if he’s strong in the subject and knew what was going on, but if he was flailing, abort that mission and proceed with a different subject for the second semester — either morphing in “physical sciences” or going with something like astronomy (just do the first semester of a year-long program.).  I would not try to remediate Chemistry mid-year.  This is the second subject I’d invest in, in terms of quality of materials.

History: Pick up where he left off, time-wise, and just keep on moving.  This is low-stress.  Pick a book or books he likes, and have him write a paper a week (the infamous 5 paragraphs) on what he studied that week.  If there’s no final exam (for example if you just do library method, where grab books on topic and read ‘em), have him do a term paper or oral presentation for his final.  If he was doing the government/economics two-semester combo, do the other subject this semester.

English:  If he was doing a particular study (“British Literature” “English Literature”, etc), you can keep going with that, or morph into a generic “English 2″.  You’re looking for a combination of literature study (reading good stuff and thinking intelligently about it), plus vocabulary practice from a vocab book in preparation for the SAT, and a grammar book and/or composition book to work the writing/editing skills.  You may be able to just continue at home with whatever vocab book he was using at school.  I’d look around at the various curriculum providers (Kolbe, MODG, etc etc.) and see what appeals to you and fits the budget.

Cheap alternative:  Go to your library and check out Grammar Girl or an equivalent; one good beginner’s writing book written for aspiring writers (watch for foul language, there are some excellent writing books that have a touch of potty mouth); and a pile o’ classics that are of interest, and work through those for 2nd semester.  There are also some curriculum out there such as the Literacy through The Lord of the Rings and so forth, that build a one-year or one-semester literature curriculum around a single work or genre. (I have not reviewed the curriculum, FYI.)  If you find one that strikes his fancy, this could be a good way to finish out English 2 and cultivate an appreciation of literature that doesn’t involve too much penance.

Foreign Language: Your #1 concern is meeting the college-entrance foreign-language requirements.  So take into account what he’s already studied, how much time he has left, and figure out whether you need to continue with current language, or if you can start a new one, or if this is a subject you don’t need to worry about this semester.  Pick a program that appeals to you and roughly matches up to his current level.  It’s okay to do, say, “Latin 1″ or “Italian 3″ spread out over odd-semesters, as long as he completes the necessary units of study.  So don’t panic over this one.

You could also wait a few months and do your 2nd-semester foreign language in ‘summer school’.  Language-learning can be brain-intensive, and some students benefit from focusing 100% on the language for a time, and essentially completing a semester or year’s worth of classes in a shorter more concentrated period.  Picking the exact right book/program is not important in 10th grade second semester.  Language-learning is cumulative in a networked, whole-brain way.  Whatever he uses will benefit him, and you can refine your choice next year.  If you aren’t sure what to do, beg a free loaner book off someone to start with, and invest after you are confident of your choice.

Religion:  If you’re looking for suggestions, give us some more details on what he’s done already?  Kids are all over the map in terms of background knowledge, interests and abilities, and you want to strike a good balance in difficulty-level and topics, in order to keep it interesting and appropriate.

Other electives:  What can you knock out this spring that you’ve got to do in order to graduate / get into college, without making anyone cry?  My thought would be to pursue a hobby that he loves and would consider rewarding, ie if he loves to draw than take an art class, or if he plays sports, join a team and give him credit for PE. But I wouldn’t pursue the extras this semester when you are transitioning if it’s going to stress you out or make him miserable.  A man should be made miserable in moderate doses.

If there’s a pre-packaged curriculum that just seems like the perfect thing, go with it.  If not, compile your course of study a piece at a time.  My advice would be, when you read about the curriculum, does it make sense to you?  Can you get your head around it?  You’ve got so much suddenly on your plate, this is probably not the time to slog through an academic approach that is going to stretch your brain to snapping point.  Look for stuff that makes you go, “Oh yes, that! Perfect!”

***

Okay, that’s my guess.   Other people, correct me, hmmn?   Any personal experiences to share?  Cautionary tales?  Bits of encouragement?

Kolbe Reviews: Thoughts on Math

Kolbe calls for Saxon Math as its default math program for upper elementary school.  That’s the one in the course plans, and it’s one I’ve looked at but never used.   The  Kolbe plans primarily serve to divide out the work day-by-day; there is not math instruction in the plans.  (In contrast to say the religion course plans, which include teaching suggestions in the daily notes of the course plans.)  There are quarterly exams in the course plans, so you can do an exam at the end of each quarter that will line up with what was covered in the plans.  The exam answer keys show not just the answer, but the “show your work” way that the problem was solved.

Saxon’s reputation: A lot of people love it.  It’s the A+, teacher’s pet of math curricula.  If you successfully complete Saxon, you’ve got a well-trained math student.  People who don’t like Saxon tend to not like the homework:  For each lesson, the homework includes a relatively small number of practice problems for the new concept (so complain those who want more practice), and many problems that review previously-taught concepts (so complain those who can’t bear repetition).  The latter problem is easy to fix — just don’t do all the homework problems.  If you have a student who tends to need more practice to “get” a concept, preview the curriculum and see if it looks like it will provide enough help for your child.

Kolbe’s second-choice recommendation is Singapore Math.  Give it serious consideration, because it’s the top choice of some well-regarded homeschool moms.  Look here for Rebbecca Frech’s comments on Miquon & Singapore Math, and here for her general approach to teaching mathematics.

Another homeschooling friend and math-professor-on-homeschool-leave recommends the Life of Fred, which her kids love.  I ordered a book, and my 5th grader is excited about using these to review and master the topics she’s been learning.  She likes the story-format better than a regular math book, perhaps in part because she has spent many years with a regular math book.  I’m not persuaded every family would use Fred as their sole math book, though.  But it’s a good resource to know about.

I am pretty happy with Math-U-See, which is what we’ve used all along, but don’t think it’s a good fit for everyone.  I like it because I like the way it explains the math concepts — that whole thing of understanding how math works, rather than just memorizing processes.  I am also 100% comfortable with the MUS guidelines on teaching math, which direct you to slow down and speed up per the student’s readiness.  Which in our family consistently translates into long periods where we make “no progress”, then quick speed through a bunch of chapters at once when the brain catches up with the new topic.  A lot of people would not be comfortable with this.  (Even if you despise MUS, check out their various free E-sources, land of the free printable worksheet generator.)

Note also, that MUS’s scope and sequence is not the same as in most public schools.  It would not be the best choice for someone planning to put the kids in and out of school during the elementary years.  On the other hand, if you have a struggling math student and want to spend a summer on review, the videos and a workbook used strategically might be a way to help a student master a topic that had never quite clicked.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the controversial Teaching Textbooks.  People hate these for all sorts of reasons, some of them (reportedly) valid.  But people love them because they let you sit your kid in front of the machine, do the work, done.   They seem to be most popular with non-math kids who just need to get the basics down by moving at their own pace, and with families that are extremely overloaded and need a method that is not parent-intensive.

Based on all that, here are my criteria for a good math curriculum:

  • You the teaching parent like the general approach.  If you don’t believe in the method, you’ll never last 10 minutes when your kid digs in the heels and tries to talk you out of it.
  • It fits your family’s needs and abilities.  People vary in how well they read, how easily they learn math, how much hands-on time the parents have, and so forth.  Shed the fantasy life and be the math person that you are.

The big problem with math instruction: Not enough of us love math.  And those who do love it are divided into those who have fun with it, and those who take perverse pleasure in accomplishing nasty chores.  It is very hard to teach a subject that you don’t personally enjoy.

What to do?  My advice if you are math-phobic is to relax, sit down with your kids, and learn with them.  Your brain is more mature than it was a decade or two ago, and it is not too late for you to finally understand the topics that confused you way back when.  (FYI – Math-U-See is popular with moms who are going this route.  I can’t speak for other series, but I’d say for any math book: Take a look and see if the explanations make sense to you.  If they do, you’ll be able to turn around and explain them to your kids.)

My advice if you are competent at math but just don’t love it* — and this is me, and so I constantly nag myself with this advice — is to keep searching until you find a way to love it.  Be it via games, or making a sport of comparison shopping for groceries, or rewarding yourself with chocolate for every twenty minutes spent faking it for your kids’ sakes, try something, anything, to get you past the I-hate-math hump.  Don’t give up on yourself — keep trying different things until something clicks.

Okay readers: What’s your favorite math curriculum?  Supplements?  Games?  Websites?  Recommend away.

*People think accountants are math whizzes.  Some are.  But accounting actually only requires about an 8th grade math education, and a teeny tiny bit of algebra, sometimes maybe. In any case, I am not the kind of accountant who just loves adding columns of numbers.  I am the kind of accountant who loves creating spreadsheets that add numbers for me.  Also I like to figure out what went wrong with your computer and make it work for you again.  I like figuring out why the government just sent you a nasty letter, and then digging through your confused box of documents and showing you how to properly fill out your form the second time around.  That kind of accounting.  I am not the person you want keeping your books.  I am the person you want to call when you suspect your bookkeeper is up to no good.  That’s what I like.  Accountant detective work.

7 Takes: From My Feed Reader to Yours

7 Takes at ConversionDiary.com

 

This week, after you pray for Allie & congratulate our hostess, I send you elsewhere.  I scrolled through all my recent +1′s in Google, and picked a few:

1.  People come here when they search on “Kolbe Academy”, and presumably when they do that, they also find Kolbe’s blog, Servant of Truth.  But in case you had a google-failure, here’s an answer to a question that gets asked a lot:  How to Change Pace in a Structured Curriculum.

2.  Brad Warthen is aggravated, here, about a homeschooling bumper sticker that he sees as a flagrant rejection of a whole community.  (He’s a Mr. Community kind of guy.  A Rotarian, no less.)  I concede in the combox that he is correct, it is indeed impossible to know what part of “the village” the hostile-homeschooler wants no part of.  But I’m going to guess it’s something like this.

3. FTR, I homeschool for the library books.  The village never even entered into it.  I just want to read.  A lot.  There aren’t many jobs let you do that.  (Also I like teaching my kids, like being with them, like playing outside, like traveling during the school year, and it’s the only Catholic school I’ll ever talk my husband into paying for . . . but it’s mostly for the books.)

4. NFP Apps.  I like a pen and a free-in-the-mail calendar myself.  (Helps if you don’t particularly need a graph or white baby stickers.  About once a year I break out the graph paper to make sure I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing.  But most of the time, 4/10 of degree shows up real nice just looking at the numbers.)  But all you smart-device people can do NFP the Smart Way.

5. Can’t have too many religious education curricula.  Read about Healing the Culture’s new high school curriculum, and, completely separately, Loyola Press’s new adaptive sacramental prep program for students with special needs.

Also a Bleg: Anyone have an RCIA text you really love?  I’m dumb enough to try to make up an answer to that question, but someone who knows the field would be better suited to give the real scoop.

6. At Public Discourse: the obituary of an honest historian.  Beautiful story.  Especially if you’re the kind of person who reads a history book, and then rants towards your children about all the dumb ideas the book promotes without presenting any evidence whatsoever.

My kids say I complain a lot.  I reply that easily 10-if-not-15% of the time, it’s because there’s something worth complaining about.  The rest of the time, yeah, I’m just grumpy.  Probably the nicest grumpy person you know.

7. The reason bloggers blog is because we have something to say.  Abby Johnson doesn’t play around: If you want to be pro-life, get your act together and show up for work.

Have a great weekend!

(PS: The tiny tiger has persuaded SuperHusband not to haul her to the pet shelter just yet.  Cuteness is a powerful survival strategy.)

3.5 Time Outs: The Distracted Life

Thanks once again to our host Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy, who has exceeded himself once again.  Go look!

Click and be amazed.

1.

On Tuesday mornings we’ve been watching Fr. Barron’s Catholicism DVD’s at the nearby parish (not ours) that has the most convenient times.  Excellent.  BUT, episode three is a little a lot abstract for the kids.  I’m hoping it goes back to more concrete story-telling type episodes in the weeks ahead.  

2.

I could tell my 3rd-grader was not fully paying attention, because her feet were in the air.  You know how you raise your hand to ask a question in class?  Or you raise two hands in air to communicate secret messages from referee to fans, or from evangelical praise-and-worshiper to God?  It was just like that, only with feet.

3.

I’d told the group leader we’d be slipping out right after the DVD, and not staying for the group discussion, so that we could get home and get started on school work.  Kids and I discussed the Problem of Evil (subject of episode 3) on the way, and curiously, the boy proposed “God testing us” as one of the possible explanations for evil things in the world.

I challenged that notion, but I’ll tell you I do think it’s one of the explanations for good things in the world.  Because as we pulled in, our shy-but-friendly bachelor neighbor, who never comes over, was poking around our entry way, looking for us.  Because he’d found this:

New Kitten

3.5

The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error.

True, if a family finds itself in exceeding distress, utterly deprived of the counsel of friends, and without any prospect of extricating itself, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid, since each family is a part of the commonwealth.

In like manner, if within the precincts of the household there occur grave disturbance of mutual rights, public authority should intervene to force each party to yield to the other its proper due; for this is not to deprive citizens of their rights, but justly and properly to safeguard and strengthen them.

But the rulers of the commonwealth must go no further; here, nature bids them stop.

(Paragraph breaks added for legibility in blog format. See the source here.)

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I see that I’ve hit my deadline for sidebar updating, so I guess I’ll officially slide that onto my to-do list.  But I’m open to suggestions as long as the work in is progress.  And of course, Tuesday’s Link Day, which is when instead of e-mailing fun things I ought to post but forget to, you just tell the world all by yourself.  Entirely optional.

The Kolbe Reviews: Religion

Freedom’s just another word for “knowing what to do.” And then doing it.

I’ve been using the Faith and Life textbook series for homeschool religion since the boy was in first grade.  I loved it then, and still love it now.

 

What you get: Each book in the series has approximately 30 chapters, designed to be read one a week throughout the school year.  (Some years there are more chapters, some years less).  The reading is on grade-level, but the first grade book is designed to be a read-aloud, and the second grade book will be a read-aloud for some students.  Each chapter might be ten minutes worth of reading?  One day’s assignment. At the end of the chapter there are usually some vocabulary words, a scripture or prayer, and some catechism questions and answers.

All except the 2nd grade book feature gorgeous traditional artwork for the illustrations.  The second grade book uses contemporary-school-book genre stuff, but you’ll get over that insult when you get back to 3rd grade and the serious art resumes for the remainder of the series.

Each book has a theme — first grade covers Salvation 101, 2nd grade prepares students for the sacraments of reconciliation and communion, fourth grade is a survey of the Bible, sixth grade is heavy on the moral life.  Along the way you spiral through the essentials of the faith at an age-appropriate level, so it’s possible to jump right in at grade-level even if you haven’t used the texts before, or even ever studied the faith before.

The accompanying Activity Book is a consumable workbook with a combination of study questions and fun activities like coloring pages and crossword puzzles.  Together the two make a complete package for home use — the student does the reading, completes the study questions, and does any of the extra workbook pages as desired.  I let my kids write in the book, but if you did only the study questions on a separate paper, and no fun-and-games, you could pass the book down.

I have looked through the expansive (and expensive) teacher’s manuals, and they do contain a lot of helpful information for the catechist.  But for home use, I think these are not needed.  My advice for a parent who is not very knowledgeable of the faith would be to do the student reading along with the child, and then to learn more about the faith in general by picking out other good Catholic books on topics of interest.

UPDATED: Tara in the combox observes, and I would take her advice over mine:

I find them really really useful because I am not a catechist and I cannot make this stuff up. They have the answers for the activity book pages and have a test / quiz for each chapter and each section (again, answers supplied too). Unless you’re very confident and very experienced, I think they’re well worth the money.

FYI the teachers manuals are huge.  So priced comparably (even favorably) to other works offering similar amounts of info.

I’ve never used Faith and Life in the classroom.  My parish has always used some-other-brand.  I have talked to several catechists from other parishes who didn’t care for F&L, because of the strongly academic focus (a selling point for me — I love it), and because the style of the lessons didn’t call for crafts and activities and so forth.  We did do one test section of F&L for 8th grade last year, and the feedback I received at mid-year from the catechist teaching that class was very good.  Feedback from a 2nd-grade catechist at another parish was that course material was good, but the lessons worked best if the teacher had free reign to present the topics the way she thought the students would learn them best.   I think a lot depends on whether the parish in fact wants students to learn the faith with the rigor expected in other academic subjects, and whether the teacher has the experience and confidence to teach the material effectively.

What you don’t get in F&L:  There’s very little in the way of multicultural imagery, church geography, or even much for lives of saints.  This is a theology course, and you need to plan to fill out your students’ religious education with all the other stuff that makes up our faith and heritage.  If you are going to Mass, observing the feast days, living out in the wider world, praying as a family, and reading lives of saints as part of your literature curriculum, you’re in good shape.  Otherwise, plan to pick up some supplemental materials that will fill in your gaps.

About the Three Editions:  There’s original, revised, and 3rd edition to match the new mass translation.  Don’t worry about it.  If someone gives you an older edition, it’ll work fine. Every now and then one of the assignments won’t line up, but it’s not a big deal.  On the other hand, the books are fairly affordable new.  My personal approach is if I’m going to buy, I buy new, but I’m not upgrading my older stock.

Kolbe also uses the St. Jospeh Baltimore Catechism series.  These are retro-style catechisms, complete with an English translation of the mass that sounds almost like our new mass translation, because, get this: it’s translated straight from the Latin.  Because the books are that old.  The language is frank, the drawings are 1950′s-chic, and yes, I love this one too.  Great discovery.  If you want to justify mowing the lawn on Sundays, don’t let your kids read this book.  No toe left un-stomped.

The course plans.  For me as a catechist who happens to be a parent, the course plans primarily save me the work of writing up my own.  But I think they’d be one of the sets of plans worth purchasing if you aren’t registered with Kolbe, because each day’s and week’s assignments include a summary of the lesson topic, and points to clarify as you teach your student.  Lots of material in the plans.

The planned assignments do call for a lot of memorization and recitation.  Recall that as the teaching parent, you’re free to decide just how much of that memory work your student needs to do.

FYI: The Kolbe plans run on a four-day schedule, and are built around a tutoring-type environment, so they can’t be peeled off the page and inserted into a parish religious education program as-written.   That said, if I were Queen of Religious Ed (I’m not) and had the budget to match my imperial fantasy life, I’d want something like this to give to new and struggling catechists, because the plans to do a good job distilling the faith into the essentials.

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Questions?  Comments?

3.5 Time Outs: What Works

Thanks once again to our host, Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy, who is the picture of patience with his minions.  (And he prays for them too.  If you’re going to have an overlord, that’s the sort you want.)

Click and be amazed.

1.

My daughter recommends using frozen blueberries instead of ice cubes in your limeade.

We own limeade concentrate because it makes the best margaritas.  Cup of ice, one scoop limeade slush, tequila, jiggle it around, done.  Best ever.

But apparently the blueberries go over big with the under-21 crowd.

2.

Look, the Darwins have school plans.  So do I, but I’m saving my enthusiasm for the first week of September.  We did two weeks of remedial Latin at the beginning of this month, then I cancelled class until I was satisfied I was ready for the conference next week, so that I wouldn’t have terrible nightmares about running to the airport and forgetting my shoes, or trying to give out business cards but I forget to get them printed — you know the drill.

What the Darwins do is what I’d do, if I were the Darwins.  You know what I mean.  They have a good approach.  I like it.

3.

Book department update 1.0: I learned last week how important it is to have a book deadline.  (Mine is 8/27, approximately 28,000 words.)  Because otherwise, I’ll never stop writing.  There’s always one more little thing to say.  I made myself stop before I hit 30,000, and this week [yes, this week, because even last week, new words kept sneaking in despite my resolve to be done adding anything else, forever and ever amen] I’m using the delete key to clean out the dust.

3.5

Book department update 1.5: My half of the contract is signed.  Waiting to get back the copy from the publisher with both signatures on it.  Then we’ll be legal, and I’ll have to resist the urge to post something in ALL CAPS because I’ll be SO EXCITED.  As you knew I would be.  Accountants are never happy until the lines are all properly filled.

***

And with that, I’m back to regular life.  I’ll keep y’all in my prayers, and I’m trying to work through my blogging backlog in addition to doing all the other stuff I need to do, so look for me to pop in with this or that, time permitting.  Have a great week!

(And yes, you can post links.  I am, by the way, reading comments.  Oh, about once a week, but I am.  And trying to reply as well.)