Friday, July 21, 2006

The Absorption Principle

Yesterday I referred to Elizabeth's post about her preschooler, and the similar (if still vague for me) goal I have for mine: to relish this age, and to not relegate Ramona to the back burner, leaving her to feel that she's merely a tagalong to the activities of "her girls" (as she calls them.)

(An aside: you must visit Elizabeth again today, as she has a wonderful bookmark-worthy post full of delicious -- literally, in some cases -- art ideas. And you get a peek into her art supply shelves.)

One of the things that got me thinking about this was the American Girl club that we participated in last school year. My friend, Linda, Organizer Extraordinaire and Super Craft Mom, started the club as a fun way to survey American History with her daughter, who is Betsy's age. Since I already had some history plans of my own for my girls, I viewed the club as just a fun supplement. We were already familiar with all-things-American-Girl, so instead of re-reading the books before each meeting, I was a bit lackadaisical about it, looking forward mainly to the creative and delightful craft projects with which Linda would wow us.

And, overall, my approach worked out just fine. But I realized something a character or two into the school year. Somewhere after Kaya and before Addy I discovered that while I was familiar with all-things-American-Girl, and Anne was steeped in AG-ishness ... Betsy's familiarity with all the stories? Not so much.

Our first year or two of homeschooling revolved around American history by way of American Girls and pioneers (Laura Ingalls Wilder, and her ancestors Martha and Charlotte, to be exact.) Anne remembers it all, too, as she had immersed herself in all of those series for an extended time. But Betsy? She was four years old the first year we homeschooled. She was five our second year (See? I can teach math.) So, although she loved making butter and yarn dolls and being read to outside under the oak tree, after putting the AG series aside for a few years, she didn't really remember every detail of every book, as Anne did.

And it struck me: I was so focused on homeschooling Anne back then, and I reasoned that whatever Betsy absorbed was just icing on the cake. But here I was, a few years later, expecting that the icing had stuck. But we all know how hungry we get after some sugar. Much of our AG and Little House study had been delightful sugar for Betsy, but now she needed to be fed again, with more substance. And I hadn't been doing it, because I assumed she "already knew all this stuff."

Guilt. Oh, the guilt. So, I wallowed for awhile ... not very long (I think some chocolate may have helped me get over it) and decided that I should be grateful for the wake-up call. How many other things had I assumed Betsy had merely absorbed? In what other areas had I cheated her a bit? Where did I need to play some catch-up?

It was a great wake-up call, and it woke me up to Ramona's age and stage, too. When Ramona was born, I knew that we just needed to find ways to get through the tougher stages to keep our homeschooling plans in place: the sleeplessness of the newborn days, the high-maintenance and mischief of an 18-month-old, and so on. But now ... oh, my goodness ... she's almost four! It's time to think of her as another one who needs her own kind of nourishment.

Not that there's anything wrong with the "they'll absorb so much from the older ones" philosophy. I firmly believe it's true. They can and do learn a lot from their older siblings' studies. I'll continue to include Ramona in read-alouds for the older girls, as I always have and I'll adapt things Anne and Betsy do for Ramona's little hands. But, it's good to be reminded every now and then that some adjustments might be in order, to make sure everyone is getting what she needs.

Sometimes, perhaps the absorption principle (or the "trickle down" as Elizabeth called it) needs to move in reverse: take something that a younger or middle child needs to learn, (or would love to do) and adapt it for the older children, too.

Could just be that Anne and Betsy will be giddy over the prospect of more painting, too.


Liz said...

Konos curriculum rather works on that sort of principle. They have everyone studying the same thing, but at their own level. So for example take Blueberries for Sal. The pre-schooler learns about picking blueberries, the eating habits of bears, the importance of staying near your mother, etc. The oldest child could easily learn principles of home canning blueberries (why you can water bath can them, but need a pressure canner for, say potatoes), the middle child might spend their time figuring out about bear habitats and what parts of the country have both bears and blueberries. Of course the youngest will enjoy the pictures in the book, but the two oldest might have fun looking up the illustrator and figuring out what school of painting his work represents, etc.

Can you tell I still like to plan curriculum after all these years???

BTW speaking of history (this isn't early American, but more early 20th century) has Betsy ever read Dorothy Canfield Fisher's Understood Betsy? It was one of my favorite books when I was about 10. Of course it might end up with you having to figure out how to make sugar on snow... It also might introduce Anne to some pretty great classic poetry (the section where Betsy reads "The Stag At Eve" is just wonderful!). And it could send you searching for information about consumption. Oh well, you get the idea I'm sure.

Amy said...

Great post, Karen. I need SO much work in this area!

Donna Marie said...

We are doing the same thing, Karen. I am finding that many of these wonderful moments that we had with the older crowd are timeless and it is ok to do it with them sooner AND later. I read Elizabeth's post today to re-supply...we CAN do art...we will DO art...I am repeating this over...and over...and...well, I am sure YOU understand ;o)

Karen E. said...

Liz, you're the third person in as many months to bring up Understood Betsy so I have to track it down. :-) I love your ideas for it. And, ah, yes, I see the curriculum planning bug never goes away.

Amy, yours are all still so little ... don't be too hard on yourself! :-)

Donna Marie, I love the way you sum it up: do it sooner AND later. Yes.