Homeschooling From Florence

Our daughter’s 7th grade classmates back home are currently studying the Renaissance so it’s fortunate that we’ve been in Florence for a month. While she is missing the day-in and day-out assignments that her classmates are getting, she’s living and breathing the Florence of Michelangelo. de’Medici, Brunelleschi, Savanarola et al., as we walk around and explore the city each day. She’s also reading Irving Stone’s fictionalized biography of Michelangelo “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” I knew she was getting a lot out of the book when she got very excited about seeing Michelangelo’s “Prisoners” at Florence’s Accademia. She breathlessly explained to us how Michelangelo felt he did not create a sculpture; he simply allowed the figure to escape from the stone.

Homeschooling in general is not that difficult; it’s a matter of knowing what the kids should be learning and focusing them on it. As for knowing what to study, most states post their grade-level education standards on their state web sites. For our state, California, I cut and pasted those standards into a long Excel spreadsheet. My wife and I looked through it and decided that we needed to follow the guidelines with respect to Math, Science and History but we would do our own thing for everything else. For Math it was easy; her middle school teacher and principal allowed her to follow with the class and access both the on-line textbook and homework assignments. For History and science it was a little more difficult. This is where I harnessed the power of the World Wide Web to find the materials we needed. First I typed in “7th grade history textbook California” and found many textbook web sites (Holt Rinehart Winston, Prentice Hall, Glencoe, etc.) but all of them were password protected. Then I added two words to my search string that made a big difference: “username” and “password” and voila! I found several teachers’ sites that gave out the username and password for forgetful students. From there it was just a matter of getting into the textbook and making an off-line copy. With digital copies of history and science textbooks for our kids, we were set for their homework in those areas, even if we ever found ourselves without an Internet connection.

While poring over textbooks has its place, it pales in comparison to experiencing a place first hand…and nothing complements that experience like reading books and watching movies set there. My son has a pretty good feel for the end of the Ottoman Empire in present-day Turkey after having seen Peter Weirs’ “Gallipoli” and having read de Bernieres’ “Birds Without Wings.” Both kids can now breeze through biographies on Julius and Augustus Caesar (Freeman and Everitt, respectively) after having seen every episode of HBO’s “Rome” series. (see earlier entry on this here)

We walked by a statue last week and my daughter said, “That’s Michelangelo! See his broken nose? He thought of himself as kind of ugly…that’s why he liked to make plain-looking people beautiful.” Yes, our daughter is getting behind on her homework back home. Or is she?


  1. I'm so jealous! What a fabulous experience you ALL are having. I've added The Agony and the Ecstasy to my reading list...and now I'm going to poke around your blog a little more :)

  2. Thanks Jill,
    I read A&E about 20 years ago and remember that I was mildly annoyed by the (very detailed) fictionalizing of the history (i.e., "Michaelangelo ate his eggs for breakfast and then started to work on the pieta...") I loved the history, though.
    Thanks for writing.