|Photo from Wikipedia: By Josconklin|
Walking into the one room K-8 classroom as a full-time teacher was a new experience for me. I had homeschooled my children for almost 20 years, so with my youngest in high school at the local public school, substitute teaching seemed like the perfect transition for me. When the school district called me in August and asked if I would be willing to teach at the Hutterite colony school full-time that year, I didn’t hesitate to say yes! Getting the call so close to the beginning of the school year left me very little time to prepare and was overwhelming. I decided to rely on what I knew and loved from my own homeschool. We would use the textbooks as our spine, but I would incorporate quality literature wherever I could and read aloud wonderful books every day.
|Photo by Kimberly Winkowitsch|
I enjoyed teaching Hutterite children. Similar to other Anabaptist groups like the Amish and Mennonites, Hutterites believe in living modestly and simply. Where they differ from the others is in their communal lifestyle. They live in a colony with all things shared. Each family has their own home but meals are eaten together in a central cafeteria. They also worship together at daily church services. Their “English” school is actually a public school with a hired teacher in their school building.
|Photo by Kimberly Winkowitsch|
It was going pretty well, but one day I noticed the younger students getting very bored with their social studies textbooks. James was fidgety and three times I had to remind Anna and Leona to get back to work. They were good and willing, but bored, and there was just no spark or hunger for the subject. I remembered afternoons of sitting on the couch in front of the fire with my children while I read Leif the Lucky or Columbus from their Beautiful Feet Books' Early American History for Primary Grades studies. They would do some work in their notebooks after read-aloud time and find places on a map. Sometimes we would supplement their studies by cooking a colonial dish or doing a craft project. THIS was what I wanted for my students. I had the books. Why didn’t I use them?
The next day, I brought in my entire D’Aulaire collection, my Your Story Hour CDs, the Early American History Timeline, and my teacher’s manual. While the older children worked at their desks, I grouped the younger students at a table and began reading Leif the Lucky to them.
They LOVED that book and every other book in the collection. We created notebooks and listened to the stories on the CDs. They laughed as they learned that the first Viking baby born in North America was named Snorre. Anna wrote about Snorre in her notebook and again in her journal the next morning. James, who was the most distractible and restless of the younger ones, enthusiastically stared at each picture and asked constant questions. “Are there still Vikings?” “Did some of them stay in north America?” “Where is Snorre now?” They colored their pages and wrote summaries of their daily reading. They answered questions eagerly, and I noticed them talking about Leif and Eric in their free time.
Columbus and Pocahontas became real people for them, and not just some names in a textbook or on a test. Benjamin Franklin made their fuzzy concept of electricity and inventors come into focus in a natural way that was memorable and captured their interest. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t just some man from an old photo. He was a real person who had grown up in the wilderness and traveled for miles just to borrow a book. When he became president, it showed the limitless opportunities that were ours for being Americans. Little first grader Jana asked to borrow Leif the Lucky to read when we were done with it, so I let her take it to her desk. After each book was completed, the students would scramble to be the first to ask for the book to read. They had to take turns, but they chose those books for silent reading time again and again. The notebooks they created were beautiful keepsakes they could display for parent/ teacherconferences and take home afterward. The colored timeline on the wall helped them to get an understanding of the chain of events and how it relates to us in the present.
I wasn’t able that first year to fully incorporate the Early American History Intermediate study with the older students, so I used some of those books in my read aloud time. We read The Fourth of July Story, Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims, and William Bradford: Pilgrim Boy. I brought in other books from the collection and had them available in the library for silent reading time. These great books were the perfect additions to their lessons.
I was so thankful to have experienced using this wonderful curriculum in my homeschool, and I loved being able to use it again in my classroom experience. Thank you Kimberly for sharing this unique experience! If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comments.
*Names of the children have been changed to protect their identities.