Once we made the decision to homeschool, I felt like we had jumped the main hurdle in the whole “educating-your-child-at-home” process.
Then I realized that I need to choose curriculum and that the options were limitless. My head would spin as I thought that I was now the one to decide which math program to choose and which spelling workbook would be best. Did I want something prepackaged that told me exactly what to do or did I want to take a more eclectic approach and pick and choose from a variety of options?
As I was searching, I knew that I was consistently drawn the to the classical method of educating a child. Back in my teaching days, I saw education fads come and go. During my four year stint in a school, students were taught how to do multiplication by counting their knuckles, allowed to choose their own spelling words (nightmare for teachers who had to administer 25 individual tests…and also created a potential scandal when a child unknowingly choose a part of the female reproductive system as one of his words) and recess time was shortened by the state legislature to allow more time for standardized test preparation (Then the state government realized that there happened to be a child obesity problem and we did ten minutes of “calisthenics” in the morning via the TV).
That being said, I taught at a wonderful school filled with excellent teachers and lead by a God-fearing principal. Students knew they were loved while they attended that school, something not every educational establishment can proclaim to be true. However, the school succumbed to some trends, as do most things in life (including people). Nothing too outrageous or harmful (the inappropriate spelling word was quickly replaced by a gentle correction) occurred and a quality education was provided.
When it came time to decide how I wanted to teach at home, I immediately was drawn to the basics and away from trends. I want my childrens’ brains to retain knowledge rather than to merely learn and dump it. I want them to be well-read. I want them to be able to write clearly and descriptively. I want them to be able to locate things quickly on a map.
I never, ever want them to never be a part of a “Jay-Walking” segment. 😉
A Classical approach to education is where one teaches children the proper use of the tools of learning based on their stage of development. These stages, called the Trivium, are Grammar (Pre-k through 5th grade), Dialectic (grades 6 -8) and Rhetoric (grades 9-12). Having a background in child psychology and understanding the role development plays in learning, I am a firm believer of the principals of learning on the Trivium.
This is the part of our story where I discovered Classical Conversations, a national program designed to equip parents with the skills to teach their children classically at home. Classical Conversations also meet once a week, for 24 weeks, in communities where members come together to learn the new material. Parents sit in on the classes with their children, while a tutor leads the class through the memory work (Science, history, Latin, English, Time Line, Geography), a science project, a fine arts project and class presentations (each child presents a 2-3 minute speech every week….even the four year olds) and thirty minute review every week.
We have found a wonderful community for our family. Isaac is in the Apprentice’s class, consisting of six boys and two girls (Pray for that tutor!). This is such a blessing because I have been prayerful that he would find male friends to bond with this year. I am tutoring the Master’s Class of students, who range in age from 9-13 years old. I am excited to work with the older kids who are so eager to learn and who know so much already.
I am also excited to learn the presidents of the United States, as well as how to draw the USA freehand (both part of the History work everyone learns in CC this year), since I never learned such material in school.
A community’s morning schedule for a meeting day resembles this:
9:00-9:30 Large Group Time & Family Presentation
9:30-10:00 New Grammar Introduced
10:00-10:30 Science Experiments or Projects
10:30-11:00 Student Presentations
11:00-11:30 Fine Arts
11:30-12:00 Grammar Review
A community time of lunch and play happen from noon to 1:00pm.
Classical Conversations has their own curriculum that parents and students follow. For children ages k4-4th grade, the following is used:
Foundations Guide (outlines what to study each week, provides science and fine arts projects and has all the memory work)
Veritas Press History Timeline Cards (we learn 8 a week, for a total of 180 cards learned this year)
201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre and Incredible Science Experiments
Classical Music for Dummies
Discovering Great Artists
Drawing with Children
Classical Conversations tells parents they need to supplement their curriculum with a quality math and language arts program (until children complete the fourth grade, in which CC’s program becomes more extensive and intensive). This is where I found the guidance of the book The Well-Trained Mind to be extremely helpful.
Saxton Math 2: It was a toss up between Math-U-See and Saxton. Saxton won. We are starting with second grade based on what Isaac learned last year in Pre-K. So far, I am really enjoying the scripted method of Saxton.
First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: I love this book. LOVE. IT. It is a solid way to introduce grammar and grammar rules to children. It also requires learning narration, dictation and memorization skills. It is simple in the way the material is presents and is constantly building on what has already be learned.
Spelling Workout Level A: I opted to start with a basic spelling program. Despite Isaac’s higher level reading skills, he has never really displayed an interest in spelling words. I wanted to make sure he had a firm grasp on phonics before moving on to a higher level spelling program. This workbook is easy and we usually do two lessons a day.
A Reason for Handwriting: We are practicing basic copy work skills with this workbook. Isaac also does copywork for other subjects, all of which are placed into portfolios.
The Complete Writer: I plan for us to begin this in the second semester of school this year.
The Write Start: An excellent handbook for helping parents nurture a love for writing in children.
Reading is the subject that we are having a lot of fun with, especially because Evelyn takes an active part in it with us. For Isaac’s reader, we are using the McGuffey Eclectic Reader, the Third Edition. This book was written in the 1800’s and I love it. Some of the text is in cursive and some of the words are incredibly old-fashioned. It has really opened up the door for some conversations (for example, today I had to attempt to explain what a needle book is) that might not take place otherwise. Fortunately our library carries these, so we are enjoying them for free!
We also read a lot of books, stories, fables and myths from the Ancient time period. The Well-Trained Mind does an excellent job of outlining books to read that fall into these categories. The children have loved them, even when their mother stumbles over ancient names on occasion. After reading, Isaac and I do a reading comprehension narration and an illustration to go along with our story.
Isaac also spends about an hour or two a day reading independently in his room during our quiet time. He chooses the books for this time. You can read more about his book selection here.
We are doing a three part science curriculum this year, along with the science covered in Classical Conversations.
DK’s First Animal Encyclopedia: We are studying 20 animals from this text over the course of 20 weeks. We read about the animal, do further research, write narratives about the animal and do “field” study about the animal when possible (Yesterday we went in search of spiders and spider webs and came across a slightly disturbed, injured squirrel. We did not study him due to fear of rabbis. We did make a quick escape to our car.)
The Kingfisher First Human Body Encyclopedia: We will be doing a 10 week study through this text, doing narrations and experiments each week.
Green Thumbs: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Indoor and Outdoor Gardening: The final six weeks we will be digging in the dirt and learning about plants in a hands-on way. This study could be useful for the teacher as well as the students :).
One Year Bible for Children: This is our nightly devotional text that we have been using since the first of the year.
Read-Aloud Bible Stories (Volumes 1-4): We read a bible story every morning after calendar time. This series is a very basic retelling of popular bible stories that we have been reading with the kids since they were babies. They love them though and it has been a simple way to begin the morning.
Your Manners are Showing: Character Study (I feel like we do character study 24/7. As a parent, character development is not something that can merely be taught, but rather a consistent practice.)
Here are a few books that have been very helpful to me as I have learned more about homeschooling and helping me decide which path to take with our children’s education:
The Well-Trained Mind (Love, love, love this book!)
So, You’re Thinking About Homeschooling?
Classical Education and the Homeschool
A Charlotte Mason Education
Mitten Strings for God
All of this being said, let it be known that this is what works for me. I do not believe there is one correct path to educating a child. I do not believe there is one correct way to school, rather it be homeschooling, public schools or private schools. As I tell my children, God made us different for a reason. It would be so terribly boring if we all fit into a cookie-cutter mold of life. This is the path we have chosen for today. Who knows what it may be tomorrow.