Monday, August 11, 2008

Our First Day of School

Our First Day of School

It finally came: the first day of our new school year! The Providence Home Educators co-op is back in full swing, meeting every Monday. One of my boys was so excited that he set his alarm clock for 5 AM. Daddy promptly sent him back to bed, but he was back up again at 6.

We took this picture just before we hopped in the van. I like to start the day with music, so we listened to Chris Rice’s song “Love Like Crazy” on the short drive over – only about 7 minutes in good traffic. Nearly 100 kids (ages baby to high school) and 25 parents swarmed into the Metro Life building at 8:45 for a full day of Math, History, Science and English.

During the math period, I would normally make all of my copies, as well as start checking and stuffing homework folders. Fortunately, I already had prepared my stuff last week, so I spent my time chatting with other teachers and checking in on my kids. During the history class, I’m scheduled to assist in the 5th/6th grade history class. Jenn Stephenson did a terrific job teaching about Native Americans, and I got to read a related story from the book In God We Trust. (I love this book for its short stories of great American heroes.) We also talked about cultural traditions and assimilation.

Lunch time was surprisingly peaceful, since moms (or dads) sit with their own kids. Still, there is plenty of opportunity for socializing.

English Class Lesson Plans

After lunch, I pulled out my white wicker teaching basket and reviewed my lesson plans for the day. I decided at the last minute that I wanted my 7th/8th grade English students to use composition books for copying quotes and practicing handwriting. I took a quick trip to Wal-Mart, where I knew I could get them for 50 cents each in a variety of funky patterns and colors. I also picked up two bags of old-fashioned candy sticks as a treat for them. Since we’re studying American historical fiction this year, I figured it would remind them of a one room school house.

At the start of my English class, I went over a page that describes my plans for the fall semester, as well as classroom and homework expectations. I showed them the three novels we are studying this semester: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, and Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink.

Quotes and Life Lessons

Our first quote for the composition books sets the tone for the year:

“Thank God every morning when you get up that you have something to do which must be done, whether you like it or not. Being forced to work, and forced to do your best, will breed in you temperance, self-control, diligence, strength of will, contentment, and a hundred other virtues which the idle never know.” Charles Kingsley

I reminded my students that they will need to work hard this year, to really pay attention to what they are learning instead of letting it go “in one eye and out the other.” I stressed the importance of legible handwriting, and of using proper diction, vocal inflection and cadence in their speech. First impressions make a big difference in life, and if we want people to take us seriously, we must work on the quality of our presentation. I also spoke to them about four clusters of principles about Biblical communication:

1. Careful, Knowledgeable, Purposeful, and Useful
2. Honest, Accurate, Understandable, and Orderly
3. Pleasant, Encouraging, and Ready for the Situation
4. Bold, Gospel-Centered, and Spirit-Filled

For the first of these, I gave them a few Scripture verses including:

“Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel. (Proverbs 20:15)”

I wrote this verse on the whiteboard at the beginning of class so they could look at it. We talked about what it meant – such as that we need to have something worth saying. I also pointed out where the punctuation was, and noted how the words “abundance” and “knowledge” have verbs roots with suffixes that turn them into nouns. Then I erased the sentence, read it aloud ONCE, and had them write it from memory in their composition books. This dictation method is one advocated by turn of the century British educator Charlotte Mason, whose writings have shaped much of my own views on the learning process.

Grammar Lesson

Next came our grammar lesson, using the BJU 7th grade Writing and Grammar workbook. This lesson was on the four types of sentences (declarative, interrogative, imperative and exclamatory) as well as identifying subjects and predicates. We did a lot of the exercises in the class, and took so much time that I only had a little left over to do our literature lesson.

Literature Study: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

I spent just a few minutes introducing our first novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which is set in a Puritan town in Connecticut in the 1600s. The book is about how a very educated young lady from Barbados befriends an old Quaker widow who is falsely accused of being a witch. I love this book for its vivid descriptions and its deep life lessons about friendship and loyalty in the face of superstition and prejudice. I told that kids that my ancestor, Margaret Stephenson Scott, was the last and oldest person hanged in the Salem witch trials, and how people were suspicious of her because a few of her children had died in infancy, and she had a reputation as a cranky old beggar.

In her 1959 Newbery acceptance speech for The Witch of Blackbird Pond, the author described the philosophy that has guided both her writing and her life: “I do not believe a historical novel should gloss over the pain and ugliness. But I do believe that the hero… should on the last page . . . still be standing, with the strength to go to whatever the future may hold.” This quote from the author comes from the publisher’s free on-line study guide, which you can find at I used that study guide for a reference and background information, but I wrote my own study guide questions for the kids. (If you want a copy of this, e-mail me and ask for it.)

Great American Communicators

The final thing we did in class is to talk about the Puritan governor John Winthrop and his sermon “A Model of Christian Charity.” I am featuring one “Great American Communicator” each week this fall, highlighting men and women who have made significant contributions to American history through their communications. Some of the future ones will include Jonathan Edwards, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Noah Webster, William McGuffey, Alexander Graham Bell, Sequoyah (who invented the Cherokee syllabary), Fanny Crosby and Katherine Lee Bates.

John Winthrop in 1630

John Winthrop, who lived from 1588 to 1649, founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 and was the first Governor, serving 12 terms. The 700 Puritan colonists from England had left behind their homes and money to settle in the American wilderness and establish a new Christian society. On board the ship Arbella, Winthrop wrote and preached a sermon called “A Model of Christian Charity” which reminded them all of their goal in going to America. They were supposed to make God’s kingdom grow, and keep themselves and their children spiritually safe from the evil culture around them. Winthrop used a word picture from Matthew 5:14. Jesus had told his disciples that they would be like a City on a Hill, a great example of God’s glory in the world. Many important people throughout American history have been inspired by the thought that our land is to be an example and beacon of light to the rest of the world.

Here is a very brief excerpt in the original Old English…

Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberality…

My paraphrase:

If we don’t want to be shipwrecked (as a community), and if we want to prepare for our children’s future, we need to follow the advice of the prophet Micah: Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. So we must work together as a team. We must treat each other with brotherly kindness. We must be willing to go without extra stuff so that we can help with what other people need. We must show each other meekness, gentleness, patience and generosity.

City on a Hill

As a modern day reinforcement, I brought in a CD with a song called “City on a Hill” sung by a Christian rock band called Third Day. I played it as the kids cleaned up the classroom and zipped up their backpacks. It was a fitting end for the class.

City on a Hill
By Mac Powell

You are the light of the world
A city on a hill cannot be hidden
Shine your light before all men
That they might see your works and then
Praise your Father up in Heaven

A city on a hill cannot be hidden
Standing tall before all men
To show the things that it’s been given
And everything that it can give
Just like that city on a hillside
We got a light that’s deep within us
No, don’t keep it to yourself
Just remember how you felt
When you first gave your life to Jesus

And I know that our salvation
isn’t in the things we do
But it’s only given by the grace of God
By the sacrifice of Jesus,
and if we really did believe
We were born to share
this message with someone.

The class time went way too quickly! I always seem to run out of time for everything I want to cover. I guess that's a good problem to have -- I'd rather do that than have to twiddle my thumbs!

All in all, I’d say we had another great day at the Providence home school co-op! My kids all enjoyed it, too! They've already eagerly started their homework assignments for the week and now they are cleaning up so they can watch some of the Olympics.
Virginia Knowles

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