This is the 2nd article in the series How to Get an Elite Prep School Education on a Homeschool Budget.
Master educator, John Taylor Gatto, examined the curricula taught in our nation’s most prestigious prep schools, where the wealthy and powerful groom their children to assume positions of leadership, and identified fourteen themes that they hold in common.
Theme 2: Every prep school graduate has a strong experience with the active literacies: writing and public speaking.
Catholic homeschoolers are in a unique position to inculcate these principles into our own school day. Our nation – indeed our world – desperately needs leaders committed to Catholic values, and these future leaders need to be thoroughly prepared.
My previous post—and the next dozen—will examine each of these themes and discuss how we make our home schools resemble pricey prep schools, while preparing our children to assume influential positions as adults.
Every student must have strong background in both composition and public speaking. The best way to teach your child how to write is to enroll in Seton’s English program and follow the lesson plans closely, but in my experience composition is the last assignment parents and students tackle. I understand why. Composition is multi-disciplinary, requiring students to gather and organize their ideas, and then write them down using good penmanship (or keyboarding) remembering proper grammar, capitalization and punctuation. These are not assignments that work well with the numerous distractions in many homes. Nevertheless, strong composition skills are so essential to success in college and later life that we must persevere.
John Gatto wisely suggests daily practice—there is just no substitute for that. Here are a few ideas parents might remember as they assign some writing each day:
- Do not allow your students to use weak, generic words. Insist that they specify what they mean; for example squirrels do not “move”, they scamper, and snakes slither. There are not lots of “things” in our yard; there are flowers, patio furniture, and a swing set.
- Encourage the children to use vivid words to describe. As an assignment, have them write sentences using variations of common words, for example “big” could be sizeable, huge, giant and enormous, and immense. Write each word in a correct sentence.
- For younger children, provide a “word box” to give them ideas or help with spelling.
- Let your children learn how to keyboard as early as possible. Seton has noticed that work done on a computer generally scores a higher grade than handwritten assignments—perhaps because students give more complete answers.
- Some children really struggle with composition. Do not hesitate to help with organization and ideas. Sometimes, the easiest compositions are descriptive or instructional paragraphs: “describe your bedroom”, or “how do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
Remember, students must write everyday, and if they do, parents will see real improvement over time.
Finding opportunities for public speaking can be more of a challenge – but not impossible – to find. Here are some ideas:
- Read aloud a poem from the Faith and Freedom Readers to Dad at night.
- Memorize a short poem, speech, or reading each week and recite it for each other during class, or for company at Sunday dinner.
- See if your church is looking for young lectors or CCD teachers.
- Suggest to your support group that one or two meetings each year be dedicated to highlighting schoolwork, instead of social or field trip activities. Let each student prepare a short exhibition.
Remember to remind children to stand straight and use their best diction. If they will be speaking outside the home, insist on proper attire. Children will also gain confidence in public settings if they participate in instrumental music recitals, and even sports teams where they must “perform” for strangers.
Finally, the earliest exercises in public speaking involve good manners. Teach your children how to address strangers by shaking hands and answering questions politely. Ask them to introduce their friends to you. Do not let them hide behind a curtain of shyness. Constant practice can make difficult or uncomfortable experiences become a matter of course.
Teaching children to express themselves on paper or in person provides them with an invaluable skill for future success.[ginny-bethisway-book]
Header Image CC Brisbane City Council