"To get different results in life, you must do things differently. Our children are only young once. Their childhoods are a wonderful but unrepeatable time. I don't want to lose out on a single moment of joy. Abby and I don't need to spend less time together; we need to spend more. We don't need to get busier; we need to slow down.
Two years into my homeschooling journey, I am thrilled to say that I LOVE Oak Meadow. I love their heart, and I love their curriculum. I love the educators, and I love the slower pace and purposeful methods of introduction that are at the heart of their learning process. I have been extremely pleased with almost every aspect of this school and am very glad that I chose it for my homeschooling journey. I feel that Oak Meadow has made me a better teacher and a better parent.
I feel that the Oak Meadow material has allowed my 7-year-old daughter to explore and express herself creatively. My darling mom, who has taught 2nd grade in public schools for years, maintains that the best way to teach is "an inch wide and a mile deep" and acknowledges that educators today are forced to teach "a mile wide and an inch deep" in order to meet all the state-wide requirements of their districts. Oak Meadow allows me to teach a mile deep, and I know that it makes a difference in Abby AND in me!
To me, Oak Meadow's beauty is its simplicity. For science, we went outside and marked off a 2" x 2" square of ground. After studying it and observing the activity with a magnifying glass, we went in, drew pictures, and told a story about what we had discovered. Abby loved the crayon rubbings of tree bark, and we used those rubbings to compare and classify different types of trees. We headed outside to study animal tracks and to talk about animal behavior. We made a map of our neighborhood, and we watered seeds and watched them sprout.
The Oak Meadow approach is imaginative and different than anything I have seen. In many important ways, the curriculum is reminiscent of elementary school when I was a young girl, and I like that about Oak Meadow VERY much. In K, letters are made out of clay. Numbers are formed by the child out of beeswax. A relationship is established between the child and the letters and numbers she will be using for the rest of her life.
I love the flexibility allowed by the curriculum. It is easy to take the things Abby loves to do and to incorporate them into our lessons, because Oak Meadow does not have the rigidity of other schools. We spent K making and decorating the letters of the alphabet, because that was something that fueled Abby's enthusiasm for learning. I liked that there was space and time within the curriculum for me to do that with her. We hung the letters on a clothesline with clothespins and stretched them across her wall as the year progressed. She was SO proud of her work, and I loved that the loose structure and slower pace of Oak Meadow gave us time to explore and deeply plant the seeds of learning, allowing our time to be infused with joy and peace.
First grade math takes a unique and fascinating approach to introducing the 4 concepts of math. Telling a story about gnomes and their gathering of jewels to explain addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division gave Abby the tools she needed to apply those concepts as we moved forward. The process came alive, and she was not just inundated with a series of numbers on a page.
Abby loves decorating the seasonal table that the teacher's manual suggests. We had a GREAT time doing that and incorporating outside items from nature into our displays. She loves lighting a candle and saying a poem each morning as we begin our day. She loves writing with crayons, and I completely appreciated the Oak Meadow concept of writing on unlined paper and allowing her inner strength and discipline to develop until she can write beautifully, with or without lines.
Every time that I have needed to call Oak Meadow, I have been absolutely thrilled with the kindness and the knowledge of the people answering the phone. I have found them to be sweet, kind, and incredibly patient, and I have appreciated their suggestions. They have listened and talked through my questions and concerns, and that level of care is rare in today's world. I feel as though they are genuinely interested in Abby and in me and that they are committed to doing everything in their power to make our homeschooling experience the best it can be.
My complaints about Oak Meadow have been small ones, but I will list them here.
1. In the K craft book, I wish there had been an indexed list of crafts for ease of use. I was constantly flipping through that book, looking for an elusive page, and it felt frustrating to interrupt my teaching when I wanted the page number to be readily accessible.
2. While I really liked the use of fairy tales, there were a few that seemed a disturbing or boring. Most of the fairy tales were engaging, but a few were long and mind-numbing, leaving me completely puzzled as to their applicability.
3. There were typos in the material from time to time, and I was bothered more than I thought I would be by those mistakes. I think there just IS that expectation within us that instructional material will be free of grammatical errors. I will say, however, that the errors were fairly few and far between. I just wish there had been none.
4. Some of the suggested reading material or craft materials (Ivory Soap Flakes) are very difficult to find because of how old they are. But when I COULD find the materials, I was pleased with them.
A FEW RANDOM THOUGHTS I'M STICKING IN RIGHT HERE ~ :-)
~I like the affordability of the Oak Meadow material. For this upcoming second-grade year, I paid $420 for everything I will need for the entire year. When I realize that one of my friends was just paying over $700/month for her son to attend a private school in our city, I cannot get over the value for my money that Oak Meadow provides.
~I love that some of the first grade readers are stories that I read as a child. I have a lot of fun listening to Abby reading about Frog and Toad. I remember the stories well and love that she is reading them now.
~If your child likes art and drawing, the Oak Meadow curriculum really IS a wonderful fit. Abby gets to make drawing a part of almost every subject that we cover, and the ability to create is INSPIRING to her.
~I like the teacher's manual and find it to be an invaluable tool as I instruct Abby. I like the illustrations, and I like the way the material is laid out. I love the flexibility allowed in scheduling, for some days, we tackle much more than we do on days where we have less energy. In the end, our learning always comes together perfectly, and I like the fact that such freedom is possible. Some of my friends using other curricula feel as they are behind from the very first week of school, and I appreciate that I do not feel this stress.
~I love that the craft kits are available for purchase. I like the craft materials that are used. They are unique and seem to inspire creativity in Abby. For example, she really enjoys using the beeswax crayons and is intrigued by the fact that they bring out different aspects of coloring and creating.
~I like the fact that skills like knitting are taught. To be honest, I might never have gotten around to teaching that to Abby, but I do believe in what Oak Meadow feels about the importance of giving children a chance to create something and to do it with a process that is calming and soothing to their senses. This year, we are going to be weaving potholders. Again, this is something I did as a child, and I am thrilled that Abby will be making one, too.
~I LOVE that the unlined lesson books become a keepsake after the school year is over. In fact, the lesson books are almost my favorite part of all. :-)
~While I am a Christian, I like the fact that the Oak Meadow
material is not Christian-based. There has been plenty of room and space within the curriculum for me to work on some Bible verse memorization and to tell an occasional Bible story, but I like that school is about learning and that I am free to give instruction about God in my own time and my own way. I love that the Oak Meadow material is excellent in its concept and purpose and that learning is their focus. Oak Meadow achieves what it sets out to do, and it does it very WELL. It leaves the task of teaching Abby about a relationship with God to me.
SLOWER PACE ~
I have saved this point for last, for it puts the finishing touches on the story of why I love Oak Meadow. If I am completely honest with you, there HAVE been and CONTINUE to be moments where I doubt that I have made the best curriculum choice for Abby. HOWEVER, when I listen to my other homeschooling friends, I think that this self-doubt is as common as breathing in this world of homeschool. There are a million choices competing for our money and a million concepts vying for our attention and for the hearts of our children as they learn, and sorting through all of the options can be quite confusing.
I came across Oak Meadow completely by accident. I didn't feel like doing a lot of research and wasn't even sure I WANTED to homeschool, and so I randomly typed "Best Home Schools" into Google one day to see what would come up. Oak Meadow was the 2nd school that popped up, and from the MOMENT that I saw their catalog with the cover photograph of the small acorns and then the one with the small hands covered in dirt and holding a flower, I was HOOKED and KNEW I would be homeschooling. The more I read of the founder's introductory letter, the more I found that Oak Meadow reached inside of me and articulated things about teaching and learning that I believed but had never fully KNOWN or REALIZED that I believed.
The instructions for writing a review here tell you to be specific, and I have tried to be as specific as possible, yet the beauty of Oak Meadow for me is in broader concepts. If I had to come up with just ONE sentence about Oak Meadow and its value, I would tell you that they KEEP THE WONDER IN CHILDHOOD. And for me and for the goals my heart has for my children, that is NO SMALL THING.
As I look at other homeschool material, and they tell me that they will have my kindergartner reading at a second grade level and my first grader doing third grade math, my INSTINCTIVE question is, "WHY?" Why is this important? Why should THIS be my goal? Why can Abby not just ENJOY her childhood? Why is it unacceptable for her to do first grade work in first grade? Why is there this constant push?
The pressure for Abby to do more is INTENSE, and any honest homeschooling parent will admit to feeling that pressure. When the children in our neighborhood who go to private schools are reading so far ahead of Abby, there have been momentary twinges of doubt. But I just can't ever look at those children and honestly say that I feel they are happier or more intelligent than Abby. Quite honestly, they often seem tired and stressed, and I am watching Abby FLOURISH as a person. Oak Meadow sparks a love of learning and of creating within her, and I love to observe the growth.
Perhaps the thing I can say most definitively is that
EVERYTHING that Oak Meadow promises about their slower approach and its success is TRUE. Abby is grasping concepts QUICKLY and WELL as I delay their introduction. For example, as I have waited for her to really grasp reading, there is far less struggle and far more pride in her successes than if I were pushing constantly. It has been a relief for me to be able to relax and just trust the process of her growing INTO reading. The same has been true for math.
When the doubts I mentioned earlier creep in over my choice of Oak Meadow for homeschooling, I remind myself to be purposeful and stay focused. For all of us in today’s word, it can be uncomfortable to go SLOWER in a world that values speed. Going more slowly means that you are completely going against the flow. It’s difficult to stick to your convictions when so many people are valuing speed and feeling free to loudly voice their opinions, but if I really look at Abby and the fact that she is thriving and is loving school, I know that I have my answer. Oak Meadow is the right choice for us. She needs to go an INCH wide but take that inch a MILE deep!
My favorite sentences in the Kindergarten Syllabus are these: "In working with children, it is never the techniques you have learned through the years that cause your children to develop their capabilities. Rather, it is the strength of your being, the light of your understanding, and the love you have for them that draws the latent spark of individuality within them into active manifestation....Helping Home Teachers in this process is the purpose of Oak Meadow, and the reason why we are unique among home study schools. We are not interested in filling children with facts, but in helping teachers and children become intelligent human beings, able to respond sensitively and deeply to the world in which they live."
Time and time again, I have found that Oak Meadow, its theories about learning, and its pace encourage Abby AND encourage me to slow down. breathe. explore. take in. soak up. learn. apply. We are better and richer and more complete as a result.