by Kathy Wagner
Structure: The Framework on Which to Build.
It is reprinted from the premiere issue of
The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Home Education Magazine
Copyright 1994. Trademark. All Rights Reserved.
Structure - What is it? According to The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary, structure is defined as "something made up of interdependent parts in a definite pattern of organization." I personally think all people use a structure of some sort or another. After all, no matter what we call it, we all have a pattern of organization, i.e., we we typically wake, eat breakfast, learn, eat lunch, learn, eat supper, go to bed, and the cycle continues. The amount of structure is what varies from home to home. Some may choose to structure themselves by selecting a correspondence curriculum. Others may utilize the public library for educational resources but have a definite regarding what they will learnand a timetable for achieving specific goals. Some homeschoolers test their children and record the grades, while others test informally or not at all. As previously stated, it is the degree of structure that differs from family to family.
Structure: Why I Use ItMy home school is probably one of the most structured types. I have chosen this method because I need it! Without clear-cut goals, a general timetable, prepared tests, and a daily schedule, I fear I would be too busy or (I'm a- shamed to admit this, but it's true) too lazy to properly educate my children. Of course, I'm sure there are those who would argue that children learn while they play and there is nothing wrong with schooling in this manner. If that is what you want for your children, then, by all means, go for it. But I want my children to learn more than what they want to learn. I want them to have a broad range of educational experiences - perhaps even some that they might not appreciate. (You know, the kind they object with,"Why do I have to learn this?") Many of the things I learned as a child are irrelevant to me now, but many others are quite useful. As a young student, I was not able to discriminate which would be helpful to me later in life and I don't feel that my children have that ability, either. So I make the choices for them.
Structure: How I Apply It
Before I describe just how structured my home school is, I'd like to explain that structure does not mean being inflexible or unwilling to change. In fact, I alter things such as schedules and supplemental resources quite frequently. However, I always rely on a basic framework to build the success of my home school. I only change strategies when I notice areas that can use improvement.
Curriculum: The FoundationThe most important feature of our home school is Our Lady of the Rosary curriculum which I use for my school-aged children: Brian - 8th grade, Stephen - 6th grade, and Bobby - 2nd grade. (I also have two preschoolers, ages 3 and 5.) A Catholic viewpoint is presented in almost all of the textbooks, save mathematics. Since the salvation of our souls is (or should be) our highest priority, I felt a Catholic curriculum is essential. The trans- mission of our holy Catholic faith to our children is inevitable using a systematic and incremental program in catechetics. The curriculum we use from Our Lady of the Rosary provides us with the basic fundamentals: books and teacher's manual, (photocopies of fabulously Catholic texts from the 1950's through 1960's), workbooks, weekly lesson plans, quarter tests and keys. Supplying all these needs leaves me with more time to get down to the specifics of teaching. I like that. Otherwise, I would spend too much time teaching or on the opposite side of the coin, I perhaps would spend too little time planning, and consequently, not provide the proper guidelines for my children to follow.
Schedule: The SupportI feel my children work best with a daily schedule. Our schedule last year was very specific. I felt it gave the children a sense of order and reminded them how long they should need to complete each class. This schedule worked pretty well, although there were many times all the children needed my attention at the same time. (I call them my "Calgon, take-me-away days.") I also found that on some days one subject might take less time than scheduled and others might take more time. Flexibility is the key to survival. If I had insisted totally on following this schedule, I would have gone nuts. Instead, I used it as a basic guide. The kids and I usually work together to develop an appropriate schedule. For optimum learning, they have to be happy with the flow of the day. This year my children have elected to not put time limits on classes, but simply have arranged them in order of preference (probably because the schedule times weren't very precise.) Typically, my children choose to do math first thing in the morning. Once the lesson is introduced, my kids work independently, allowing me to take care of the morning dishes and the dressing of my 3 year old. If they dillydally and do not finish their assignments in a reasonable amount of time, I make them put it away to do as homework. Our structure this year is noticeably less than last year. We are not as concerned about the time spent on each class as we are about the material covered and the respective grades.
Grading: The InspectionsIn my first two years of home schooling, I used Seton Home Study (another terrific Catholic curriculum) and became accustomed to grading my children weekly. When I have not recorded grades for a period of time, I know I am not being an attentive teacher and mother. It is empirical proof that I need to do a better job. The grades motivate me just as much as they motivate the kids. Since I record their scores at least weekly, it would be a shame to let them just sit in a file. So I do issue report cards. This allows them to see a great job they are doing in some areas and the improvement they need in others.
Structure: Its BenefitsThe structure I use in my home school -- that is, the prepackaged curriculum, lesson plans, a daily schedule, grades, and report cards -- help make each day a little easier for me. The curriculum and lesson plans provide the blue- print, so to speak. They guide me. I do make adjustments to them as I see fit. (As Seton Home Study advises, "Make the program fit the child, not the child fit the program.") The curriculum is the firm foundation of our school. It gives me the stability to stay on task. I believe it is vital to the success of home education programs. The lesson plans provide the goals we hope to achieve. Without goals, how would I know when the children are done? Lesson plans give the overall objectives in weekly segments. They are the building blocks of our home school. One completed objective placed on another and another creates a sound educational program. The support of our home school is our schedule. Again, this keeps everything in focus. It challenges us to accomplish our objectives in a predetermined amount of time. It allows for celebration when a goal is met before the deadline and encourages increased effort when a deadline is fast approaching. The inspections of our school come in the form of grades. These inform us when a problem arises and testify to a job well done. They are a system of checks and balances. Grading is a great measuring tool providing it doesn't become too cumbersome. Using all of these in your home school may be overwhelming for you. Choose to use only those things that will help make your life more simple. Structure should not become a burden unto itself. It should be the framework on which to build success.
Kathy Wagner and her husband Mark are the parents of 5 children.
Kathleen founded the Erie Area Catholic Homeschoolers (EACH) in 1992.
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This article originally appeared in the premiere issue of The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Home Education Magazine. Copyright 1994. All Rights Reserved.