Education priorities move about every decade or so. You may notice that homework is out one year, in another; learning phonics is big for some teachers, others like to stress sight words; a district might advertise its enriching foreign language, art, or music programs one year and drop them to concentrate on the basics the next. The new Common Core recommendations introduce innovations in evaluation nationally, such as rewarding the ability to process rather than focusing primarily on coming to an accurate conclusion.
When navigating this curriculum kaleidoscope, consider spending a bit of time at home on activities that teach the time-honored basics used for decades to sharpen young minds. The techniques used by William Bradford or Laura Ingalls Wilder can still be used today, to supplement modern pedagogy or give your kids extra skills their peers don’t have.
Readers of the “Anne of Green Gables” series will remember those celebratory nights when the young people in rural Avonlea assembled on stage reciting memorized texts. Check American Rhetoric for the texts of great speeches of history, or use Bartleby to find loved poems for your kids to memorize and recite. Start with small pieces, easily memorized and delivered. Finding an audience for the recitation, beyond grandparents, is harder today than it was a century ago, when recitation would have been a more common form of performance. Today’s version might be a Youtube video or blog site. Make sure you take precautions to preserve your childrens’ safety and privacy.
Educator programs have long stressed the importance of Bloom’s taxonomy, where students move from lower to higher levels of learning through the stages of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Schools often promote themselves as valuable in helping students at the higher levels, and may short change the necessary level of knowledge in their eagerness to be seen as teaching synthesis or evaluation. A solid factual understanding of the world is necessary for kids to be able to move on to comprehension or application. Memorization can be a part of acquiring this base. Start with quotes (nursery rhymes, famous sayings or quotations, poem fragments), lists (U.S. presidents, countries or states and capitals, parts of speech), or visuals like maps or charts.
There is a trendy debate going on right now about whether teaching cursive writing is necessary in a world of pads and keyboards. This can pass over into a de-emphasis on the art of writing by hand at all. If you would like your child to learn how to write fluidly, with clarity, and without frustration look into worksheets easily printed from online sources. Have them copy from another paper where you have modeled script, or from narration, using lined sheets. Zaner-Bloser is a popular cursive method you can use to reinforce or teach cursive at home. If your child’s school is teaching or plans to teach cursive, make sure you coordinate with them so your child is not penalized for a using a different style.
For more advanced students who find this study interesting or useful for developing motor skills they can also use in art or music, consider adding in instruction on italic writing or historical calligraphy.
4. Multiplication tables
Kids who can recall their arithmetic facts with fluidity and accuracy will obviously run into fewer speed bumps when moving on to higher math. Flash cards are a time honored method to drill facts in, as are timed jumbled facts tests such as the ones used in the Saxon Math curriculum. Math worksheets are widely available on the internet for review. There are also more measured methods of reinforcing math facts that may work better than the quick quiz methods often used, the Math Mammoth curriculum has some examples.
5. Diagramming sentences
Parts of speech and sentence diagramming are staples of grammar instruction. Peace Hill Press publishes several grammar books in its “First Language Lessons” series that offer scripted lessons that build mechanics and structure using memorization and examples for parts of speech and diagramming sentences for older learners.
6. Great books, including the Bible
Institute a great books program for older students by modifying one of the lists from Great Books colleges such as St. John’s College. Younger students can start with lists from home school sources such as the Well Trained Mind site.
Bible reading can be organized in many ways. Bible Gateway will give you a schedule based on your preferences for reading the entire Bible or just the New Testament, reading chronologically, reading quickly. There are Bible challenges available that add group incentives or competition to the mix; the Catholic Year of Faith site has a challenge for those using a Catholic Bible.
7. Living history
Many parents and educators like to teach or reinforce history through first person historical records or through living history fiction. The Battle of Gettysburg, for example, can be taught through a textbook or through resources like Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning fictionalized account of the battle, “The Killer Angels”.
Using “living” sources to teach history is a strong precept of the Charlotte Mason style of learning. Bethlehem Books is a publisher dedicated to living history printing for young people.
You can buy timelines to use while studying history or scientific discovery, but it’s useful to acquire or create a template that the student can fill in on the side while learning from a narrative. Currclick has a number of low cost or free timeline downloads, including clip art to paste onto a history line. Microsoft Office also has templates available.
9. Maps and geography
Geography can be reinforced with rotating maps on the wall — try switching off maps of the same area every few weeks. You can buy maps of the areas at night, with lighting patterns showing; political maps; maps showing resources or terrain. A fun way to get geography in front of your kids eyes is to put a map on the kitchen table and cover it with a clear shower curtain as a tablecloth, taping them both on under the table.
One nice curriculum for teaching a gut understanding of the earth’s organization is Ellen McHenry’s program, Mapping the World with Art. Videos or download prints are available that walk kids through freehand drawing of every section of the world. Free download samples are available.
Physical coordination, the ability to plan, and a sense of accomplishment can accompany learning handcrafts. Dover publications has a number of basic how to books on traditional crafts, and you can find a series on backwoods skills with the Bushcraft, USA classes forum. Skills like crochet can also open the mind to conceptual math and other tangential learning groups.