Do We Have Mastery?

Talking About Mastery

I watched a TED talk by Sal Khan a couple of months ago and I have been referring back to it, time and again, ever since. You can watch it here.

Much of the homeschooling we do on a daily basis involves frank discussions. I don’t beat around the bush, I don’t hold back much, and I’m far too busy to delve into the business of figuring out how to trick my child into learning.

Instead, I’ve explained to her that her life will be spent learning new things. That this learning doesn’t magically stop when she leaves this house, or after college, and that she shouldn’t want it to.

Yes, there are boring parts of it, but overall, our job is to open ourselves to the adventure of learning, not fight it, and we should try to get the most out of each and every experience that we possibly can.

So I broached this concept of mastery, multiple times, over the past couple of months. When she came to me complaining about the cursive practice she had left to do, I asked, “Have you mastered the letter?” She looked at me and said, “I don’t know. Have I? What do you think?”

She tried to show me what she had written and I just stared back at her. “Yes, you do know. YOU know perfectly well if you have done it to mastery or not. You don’t need me to tell you, you can see it for yourself. So I ask you again, have you mastered the letter?”

She looked down at the page and it clicked. And I do mean clicked. It wasn’t about making me happy. She walked away, sat down, and began filling the page. And after about ten or fifteen minutes of quiet, where only the light sound of her pencil on the page could be heard, she returned, a proud, confident smile on her face.

“Look Mama, I’ve achieved mastery.” The page was filled with more examples than I had ever seen and she was proud of her work. We have had to revisit this concept a couple more times, but now, as she nears the end of her cursive book (just four more letters to learn!) her writing has improved. More importantly, her pride in her work has improved.

Science in the ‘Hood

Today, as we were listening to Story of the World on CD (thank you Lara Hampton, we are really enjoying the CDs) in the art room, I ran across Em’s science experiment. Another friend had brought us Disgusting Science a couple of months ago (thank you Dorri Partain!) and Em pulled it out and reviewed the instructions on one of the experiments.

Pretty soon she had prepared the solution and I had helped her grind up a multivitamin while she took samples to add to the solution. The first few days we had remembered to check on the samples, but they had been forgotten for a week, possibly two. You can see the video here.

Homeschooling These Days

When I realized Time4Learning was not working for us, I was pretty bummed. But it is easier to work with Emily, than it is to try and force her to do what she doesn’t want to do.

We had some frank discussions about homeschooling and settled on an eclectic curriculum that included a core set of studies. I explained the need for each, and we renamed them “The Basics.” They are as follows:

  • Grade-appropriate spelling lists – one list per week
  • Creative Writing through Rip the Page and Leap Write In and Write Back Soon
  • Daily reading
  • Social studies using Story of the World on CD. Once we make it through all four books on CD I might try and locate Don’t Know Much About History on CD as well since Em seems to really enjoy listening while we work on art projects.
  • Cursive – almost done learning the letters and then it will just be some basic practice
  • Math – flash cards – addition through division – I’ll keep doing these with her until she has full mastery. Then we will look at Khan Academy and Life of Fred math.
  • Art – eclectic and interest-driven
  • Science – also rather eclectic and interest-driven – this doesn’t happen every day
  • French – using the DuoLingo app
  • Typing practice – she has learned the keyboard, now she just needs to increase her speed
  • Living Skills – cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing, money and more
  • Music – This is all Harmony Project, but I hope to branch out to include friends who know music. What I would give for jam sessions in my house! If you love making music, just head my way.

And finally, FINALLY, we seem to have a good system in place. One in which we can complete work in 2-3 hours at most, stick to a decent schedule of learning four days per week, and Em seems to be flourishing.

We set a firm “no computers or television before 5 p.m.” rule in place and it has been well received. She plays in her room or reads after finishing her homeschool basics.

Doubling Up

On Monday of this week, however, Em had an issue.

“Mama, everyone I know is getting two weeks off for Christmas. But you said we are only getting ONE.”

“If you want to double up on your basics, we could get them all done this week.”

She thought about it for a few minutes and said, “Yes, I want to do that.”

So we have doubled up on many, but not all things. Flash cards, for example, are still just one pack a day. And she is planning on handling the last of her cursive lessons next week instead of this one. She pulled off learning 32 new spelling words this week (Week 15 & Week 16 of the 4th grade spelling lists) and she has plowed through Social Studies. 

And I have to say, I love this age. She is soaking in knowledge, learning something new each day, and she is so open to the experience. I am feeling as if we have finally achieved an equilibrium of sorts – one in which Emily is the principal architect of her learning adventures. I am merely the support staff.

It is as it should be!

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