July 4, 2012

Book Review: What Your Second Grader Needs to Know (part 1)

I keep hearing and seeing the What Your ___ Grader Needs to Know in homeschooling circles, and our library happens to have the version for 2nd grade, so I checked it out to see what the fuss was about.  I can see how this would come in handy, especially if you are building your own curriculum and don't want to "miss" anything important.

I read the introduction thoroughly.  It is written from the perspective of a public school administrator, who is concerned about children who move about in our country.  Ed Hirsch believes we need a core knowledge curriculum, standard across all schools and states.  While I understand the need for schools to be on the same page, so to speak, for each grade, the underlying philosophy is at odds with the way we are created.  (See this great post from Letters From Nebby about educational philosophies.) I think each of us will pick up different things from the same stories, and are ready to learn different things at different times.  Just because every second grade class in the country is covering Daniel Boone, for example, doesn't mean that they are all learning the same thing from it, nor are they necessarily ready for third grade.  I have friends who are public school teachers, and they are in favor of the Common Core Standards, so that they don't have to figure out where to begin teaching each year.  (To be clear, I'm not against it - I just don't think it should be legislated.)

As I started through the body of this book, I felt a bit overwhelmed, thinking I would never be able to teach all this in one year.  Second graders "need to know"
  • the parts of sentence and parts of a word
  • common sayings and phrases
  • folk tales, tall tales, poetry and comedy
  • good literature about character
  • Greek and Roman gods, specifically Jason and the Golden Fleece
  • Geography map work - drawing, coloring, naming and shape matching (they mentioned checking out Dover publications for some resources)
  • Find the seas and continents (teacher names, student points)
  • Know why the 50 states have the shapes they do and be able to point out TX and CA and the 13 colonies
  • Understand the Incan, Mayan and Aztec cultures
  • Know the geography of Mexico, Central America and South America
  • Spanish
These are the notes I took from only the Literature and Geography chapters.  Then I started comparing it to the Ambleside Online curriculum that we are using, and my anxiety subsided.  True, my checklist won't be as impressive, but in reality, he will be learning just as much.  We've already done some poetry and, although we may not have put names to each type of literature, he is well aware that poetry, Bible, Magic School Bus books, and Heidi are not created equal.  He already has a decent grasp of maps and directions, and a year of immersion-style Spanish.

Now, Hirsch does not ever say that his book alone is a curriculum, nor should it be.  In fact, he emphasizes that it is the core, the basics, and should be added to in many ways.  However, he does include stories that children "should" know at this age, to be read straight from his book.  I read one or two of them, and was even more thankful to be following the Charlotte Mason method.  Instead of using watered-down, childish versions of the great classics, shortened so much that they are dry and uninteresting, we are actually reading the great classics and getting to know the characters like old friends.  Instead of drilling through geography, we are taking a smaller portion of the world and really focusing on it, on the stories of the people that live there.

We will be resting more in the literature itself, then learning bits and pieces about the literature.  Which do you think is more important?

1 comment:

  1. On one hand I can see an advantage to having a grade level core to make sure that kids don't have major gaps in their education. But at the same time, I'm not so sure that grade levels should be so tied in with specific ages and getting completed in a certain time frame.

    If you read "Anne of Green Gables", both Anne and Gilbert start the Avonlea school a grade level behind their same age peers. But with hard work on their parts, they finish all of the grade level requirements in order to move into the same level as their peers. One would assume that if they wanted to keep working hard they could have skipped ahead to the next level no matter what their age.

    One thing you find commonly among homeschoolers is that a child might be doing work at grade level in two or three subjects, but have one or two subjects where they work ahead or behind their supposed grade level. This sort of flexibility and understanding that each kid is unique with unique talents and deficits is what is often lost in the attempt to set up "core standards".

    It would almost be better to have a broader view of what a child should know before say elementary school can be considered complete rather than specific grade levels.


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