Tuesday, August 28, 2012

To workbook or not to workbook

My friend N. also homeschools her kids.  One day, at a play date in a Prospect Park playground, I got to look inside her homeschool backpack.  It was stuffed to the gills with workbooks for every subject--math, handwriting, phonics, spelling, geography, vocabulary--and this was all for a six-year-old.  I started questioning whether I could legally homeschool in this state.  A part of me was thinking, "Hey, you're making me look bad!  With you as the role model, my rather vague IHIP doesn't have a prayer of being considered in compliance!"  (FYI, I submitted my IHIP at the beginning of the month--and it WAS in compliance!  Woohoo!  We're legal!)
Now, when I saw all those workbooks, I thought about what  we were doing.  Thing 1 and I were only using them for two subjects--math and handwriting.  And, by that point, both the math and the handwriting workbooks were long finished.  I had also gone through some Kumon materials--but that was to develop motor skills in things like cutting and pasting.  Skills my then-four-year-old completely lacked.  For reading, we read a McGuffey Primer and some folktales written in simple language.  For writing, she copied.
Now, this year, we have to be more official.  However, I'm really only using workbooks for Chumash, dikduk, and Hebrew script.  Math and handwriting are both done in marble composition books.  For phonics, we're back with Reb McGuffey.  Reading practice is done with folktales and simple readers out of the library.  History and geography are mostly done through stories, with a timeline book and blackline maps printed off the Internet.  Science is learned through stories and observation.  And, yes, we've already used the dissection kit once.
And then I realized something.
As free-form as I am, there are certain subjects I have no confidence teaching--mainly because of my own ignorance.  These subjects happen to be heavily skewed towards textual analysis in Hebrew.  I can find non-workbook resources for general Jewish knowledge and parsha.  I can certainly find ways of teaching basic phonics and math that don't involve workbooks.  Handwriting workbooks are useful, both only to a point.  Once kids have mastered letter formation, just let them write!  But when it comes to Hebrew language skills, I am lost. 
And that's where the workbooks come in.  They lend structure to teaching a subject I can't handle.
Admittedly, because of all the Hebrew books, I'm at least a step ahead of Thing 1.  I can now translate a few prefixes.  I know what some of the roots mean.  And, hopefully, by the end of this year, I'll know enough to help her navigate a Chumash.  And, if not, then I guess we're back in the workbooks.

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