Our Topic for the Year: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Dystopia — We’re still working on finding our groove with this, and I’m trying to find ways to get James more interested and engaged. Although we agreed to this mom-made curriculum, as preparation for college, he seems to be participating reluctantly. Maybe since he is such a visual-spatial, hands-on kind of learner, this is just too bookish for him.
BTW, James has ADHD, and like many people with this “disorder,” he is blessed with high energy, a quick mind, a strong “right brained,” visual-spatial learning style, and great problem-solving skills. But keeping him interested in anything for more than 20 minutes is challenging.
Books & Stories Read So Far:
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis — This is C.S. Lewis’s tale of the origin of Narnia. It’s richly imaginative, clever and funny and doesn’t talk down to children.
There are strong allusions to the biblical story of the garden of Eden — Man disobeys God by partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Lewis offers the idea that this was forbidden fruit because we were being protected from knowledge before we were ready for it.
This reminds me of the role of a parent, navigating the delicate balance of trying to shelter our children before they’re prepared to face all the ugly realities of life.
Topics Explored: Religious Symbolism
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle — I was madly in love with this book when I was 10 years old. My kids didn’t find it as compelling as I did, but it was still a good family read-aloud.
Like Lewis, L’Engle was a Christian writer who created classic fantasy novels for children. It is wonderfully imaginative and plays with the idea of traveling through time and space in an interesting way.
This book explores a variety of personal themes, including coming of age, nonconformity, not fitting in, and the fact that traditional education can be a straitjacket for some children. It also delves into broader themes, such as good and evil and freedom and responsibility versus conformity and control. The children find themselves on a planet where everyone is controlled by complete conformity. This reflects the theme of personal nonconformity, found earlier in the novel, and magnifies it on a broader scale. When I discussed theme with the kids, I offered the idea that an important theme is often reflected in a work of literature in myriad ways.
Topics Explored: Theme; Alliteration; Tesseracts/2- and 3-D space and the 4th Dimension
The Giver by Lois Lowry — Sarah and I read this book years ago and it remains one of our all-time favorite YA novels. Like our last book, it explores the theme of freedom and responsibility versus conformity and compliance.
Twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a world that is carefully modulated to avoid pain, sickness or discomfort. Anyone who doesn’t fit in is “released” from the community.
Citizens carry no memory of the past and do not understand the concepts of conflict or suffering. They also know nothing of color, music, or intense emotions such as love.
Only one member of the community carries memories of the world’s history, which he uses to glean wisdom which local leaders need to make decisions. In this way, everyone else is spared the burden of knowledge of the past.
This is a beautiful book, and thematically, it’s incredibly rich. It’s a terrific introduction to dystopian literature for young teens, but too dark for younger kids.
Topics Explored: In Progress
This book has been a great resource for exploring movies adapted from short stories and learning more about iconic authors like Philip K. Dick.
“The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick — At an unnamed point in the future, authorities can foresee a murder before it happens, arresting the murderer before the deed is done. They do this through harnessing the visions of the “precogs,” three humans with prescient ability who are essentially dehumanized and held prisoner to serve the state.
I won’t reveal any more about the story, but the reader grapples with a slippery perception of reality, not knowing whether a character has accurately uncovered a plot against him or if he is paranoid. Like much of Dick’s work, this story explores the idea of multiple timelines. The author also offered a thought provoking look at the question personal freedom versus public safety, half a decade before the Patriot Act and NSA wiretaps. In addition to being an intriguing study of legal ethics, it explores ideas about personal responsibility, free will, and predestination.
Interestingly, Philip K. Dick struggled with schizophrenia and paranoia, and he believed he had a capacity for precognition. He wrote about the link between mental illness and prescient abilities and how people whose minds work differently are marginalized by society.
Topics Explored: In Progress
Movies & T.V. Shows Watched So Far:
The Minority Report — While the film adaptation, by Steven Spielberg, borrowed its premise from Philip K. Dick’s work, the characters and story are completely different. Both the story and movie are well worth checking out. In the film, those spider bots are creepy. And that thing with Anderton’s eyes. Yikes!
Season 7.1 of Doctor Who — Very soft sci-fi — you could drive a bus through the plotholes in Doctor Who. But it’s a wonderfully imaginative show with great writing and character development, and it’s good fun. Those weeping angels! Damn!
On My Netflix Queue: 2001: A Space Odyssey; A.I.: Artificial Intelligence; Gattaca
We’re also learning more about World War I – World War II, using Khan Academy, and he watched All Quiet on the Western Front.
Interactive Notebook: (Phots of several pages are below.) This seems to be a workable way to cover literature, grammar, and writing. In this notebook, I include:
— snippets of some of the books and stories we read, with my notes. In each passage I spotlight grammatical points, literary devices, and writing techniques. Grammar rules are highlighted in pink, and explanations of important literary devices, like alliteration, are highlighted in yellow for easy reference.
— James’s writing assignments. So far these have all been in the form of freewrites. We keep these in the notebook, along with my feedback, corrections, and other comments on his writing.
It’s worth noting that James has been mostly unschooled until now, and he’s received little formal instruction in writing techniques, spelling, grammar, or punctuation. We tried dictation and copywork for a while and found out he hated it. Ditto on spelling and grammar curricula. So I took the same approach I did to his reading development and backed off.
Luckily he seems to be a natural writer; his abilities have been evolving nicely on their own. My hope is that the notebook will enable me to provide more thorough information and guidance, as he enters the high school years, while keeping the process fairly organic.
— grammar rules. Each grammar rule presented is connected to either one of our literary passages or to James’s writing. For example, the notebook might include a section on rules for paragraph structure. I might have used a literary selection to highlight paragraph structure, or I may have noticed that James isn’t doing this in his writing yet, or both.