Why Classical Education? Along An Old Road, by Briana Elizabeth

 

I grew up in the receding mists of the 60s. Because of that, and living with grandparents who survived the Depression, there wasn’t much time or thought given to extras. Presents came on Christmas and birthdays. Food was plentiful but simple. I didn’t know what McDonald’s was until I was in my early 20s. When I asked for a drink, I was given water, and if I asked for Hawaiian Punch, I in turn was asked, “What’s wrong with water?” Bread was always whole wheat, and peanut butter was always natural, the thick kind you had to stir together each time you used it. We took a lot of vitamins, mounded up in custard molds and handed out each day.

When I grew up, I found out that though I now had the choice, I disliked white bread. Fruit drinks seemed awfully sweet, and water suited me fine. I don’t remember the last time I ate fast food. I have a cabinet filled with vitamins, and every day I give my children their small mounds (I keep my eyes open in thrift stores for custard molds).

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Now, of course I tried a few fast food burgers and soda. I drank some bug juice at parties. But in the end, my tastes were trained to enjoy wholesome food.


What does this have to do with classical homeschooling?

I was raised with readers. My parents’ friends went to exclusive prep schools and colleges. I remember as a child listening to their conversations and being in awe of how they saw the world and what they knew. They loved art and music, they played instruments, they enjoyed nature and were amateur naturalists. They had paintings and specimens on their walls.

When I was in high school, I was privileged to have English teachers who loved Shakespeare and literature. My sophomore English teacher read us the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales in Old English, and I was enchanted. My senior English teacher had us read books like The Brother’s Karamazov, Narcissus and Goldman,  and Shakespeare. We did nothing in class but read and write. I was also given free reign of the art room – pottery wheels and kilns, stained glass, and paints of all kinds. We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim. I saw Les Miserables on Broadway. In my archaeology class, I was able to actually throw a spear with an atlatl. I was also able to study music for eight years and grew to love classical music because I had to play it. Knowing what I know now, I am privileged to have had that in a public school. I wish every child in public school could experience that.

I lived in a town that had a private prep school, with granite turrets covered in ivy, greens where we would play frisbee, and waterfalls with bridges over them. I was a ‘townie’  but those ivy covered stone walls meant something to me. Even though I was receiving a decent education, I wanted even more. I know what that deep longing is now. It was the heady allure of Rivendell.

“This is what the LORD says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16a

I had been brought up with truth, beauty and virtue, only I didn’t know it. I wasn’t taught what it was, but I was given the chance to experience it, to dwell in it, and it had made its impression on me.

When I pulled my son out of public school, I had no idea what other types of homeschool methods were available, but I wouldn’t have bothered to look at them anyway, I knew what I wanted, though I didn’t know the name of it. I also knew what I didn’t want, which is half the battle. I didn’t want what the public schools were offering. I had been trained up as a  child, and I didn’t want to depart from it. I had only read a few Great Books, but I knew there were more. I had overheard heard those conversations  as I fell asleep in Adirondack chairs, looking up at the stars. I wanted that and so much more for my children.

Now I spend my days giving them what I was only able to glimpse. I hope that they give my grandchildren more than they received. I determined to ask for the ancient paths – they were good, and I had walked for time enough to learn why they were good. They began before me, and they will go on far after I’ve left this earth. My great-grandchildren will have the opportunity to walk on them.

I chose classical because I see beauty in its transcendence. Because the ego, me, saw by grace that there was something bigger than I was, and we were offered to join with it. How could I refuse?

 

 

Brianabriana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

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Why Classical Education? From the Well-Trained Mind to Charlotte Mason, by Megan

 

I made the decision to homeschool when my oldest child was two. Even though I had several years to plan, I immediately began scouring the internet for curricula. I was overwhelmed by the numerous options. I wanted to ensure that my children received a better education than my own but I didn’t know which path would get me there.

I asked for help on a homeschool forum, and someone recommended The Well-Trained Mind (WTM). I got it from the library and couldn’t put it down. This was exactly what I was looking for, but didn’t know existed! It was how I wish I had been educated.

I loved the idea of laying a foundation that could be built upon in greater detail further down the road. It seemed so logical, so obvious once I’d read it, yet so completely different than my own experience that I never would have come up with it on my own.

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Two of the biggest reasons drawing me to this method were how Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise handled History and English. In the public elementary school I attended growing up, Social Studies started with the child and they learned about self, then their community, then their state, and then their country. Social Studies in 7th-12th grades were a convoluted mess. Between 6th and 12th grades, I took four and a half years of American History and only one year of World History. In the WTM method, History is done chronologically from beginning to end and the cycle is repeated every four years. And every time it repeats, the historical facts make more sense as they build upon they foundation the students already had. I loved this idea that History could actually make sense!

I listened to Bauer’s method of English instruction here. I loved the methods of copywork, narrations, and dictation, and her explanations of why they were so important. I could understand the skills they taught and appreciated that they’re developmentally appropriate for younger children. I could also see how students will take those skills and build upon them as they grow, and learn to be persuasive writers by college. That made me hopeful because I feel like I struggled so much in college whenever I had to write papers.

After a year of this method, I began to realize that although it was exactly what I wish I had had, it wasn’t working very well for my son. Apparently, different people enjoy learning in different ways. I started learning more about Charlotte Mason’s take on classical education and we’ve added some more of her methods. I still get chronological history, copywork, narrations, and dictation (among other things), but I’ve tweaked how we approach them. He’s behind in some areas and ahead in others. I get to tailor his education to his needs and it works out very well. I still love the WTM as a guide and a starting off point whenever I need curricula suggestions, but I love the natural learning of Charlotte Mason’s approach.

Even though we’re still in the “sandbox” stage of our homeschooling journey, I feel confident that we’re on the right path. We may no longer strictly follow WTM, butI know my son is getting a high quality education. It’s a proven method and my friends who are much further along in this process are there to encourage and support me. With their help, I am able to see the big picture of where I want my children to be in ten years.

 

Meganmegan–Megan is mom to three children: Pigby (boy, age 7), Digby (boy, age 4), and Chuck (girl, age 2).  She loves history, ballroom dance, and crocheting.  She made the decision to homeschool when her oldest was three and they’ve been on this journey ever since.

Why Classical Education? Peace of Mind Pedagogy, by Lisa

 

I spent last weekend at a large homeschool conference vending for a company we’ve worked with for years. I talked with parents who were trying to sort out the best curriculum for their unique children with homeschooling budgets that varied from stingy to excessive. Some came with lists and were clear about what they were looking for; others needed whatever help was offered. The common denominator was that each of these parents was homeschooling and wanted to provide their kids the best education they could afford.

When I was a younger mother, I remember walking through vendor halls feeling a mixture of anxiety and personal struggle. Would I spend our curriculum dollars well; would my kids respond well to the purchases; would they learn; would we have fun; would this solve the problems we’d had the year before; would the difficult subjects be mastered?

I don’t think I’m the only one who goes to vendor events with that level of anxiety. In fact, when I jokingly mentioned to a harried mom who came to my booth that I was a trained therapist (I am), she breathed a huge sigh of relief and exclaimed, “Good! Maybe you can help me!” I laughed with her, but seriously, don’t you sometimes feel the intense pressure and weight of what it is homeschooling endeavors to do – provide your kids with an individualized, cost-effective quality education provided by…you?

I like themes; I look for them. As I gazed around the vendor hall I didn’t find a theme- just a whole conglomeration of mismatched stuff, thrown out there for people to “eclectically” pick and choose from, hoping that it would all come together – like stew. You know, you just pick out whatever’s left over in your refrigerator, throw it in a pot, add some seasonings, and everybody loves it.

My understanding of the theory of eclectic homeschooling is much like the theory behind a good stew. You throw whatever you have in to the pot and the results will be pleasing.

What about when the stew turns into a gloppy mess, everyone grumbles and complains, and it really is so bad you can’t justify forcing people to choke it down? In my years of “eclectic” and “literature-based” homeschooling, it could go either way. We had some wins; we had some losses; we spent a fortune; and every year it was the same anxiety, the same worry and frustration over choosing the right stuff, and finagling a bit more money for the latest “wonder curriculum” that would solve all manner of problems.

I saw both the beautiful stew and the gloppy mess as I looked around the vendor hall. And frankly, I breathed a sign of relief that my days of “other-than” classical ed were over. We’ve homeschooled for a long time. And we know others who have homeschooled for a long time. Many of the people that we know/knew who have homeschooled for many years have essentially given up on academics and turned their homeschooling attention towards “delight directed” learning (whatever the kids want to learn) or “life skills” (keeping the house running). They quit worrying about their kids understanding math and talked about how they would learn what they needed to know when it was important to them.

My personal testimony is that this is false.

Just because I want to learn something doesn’t mean that I have the skills or ability to learn it. This becomes more true the less natural ability you possess or the more skewed your abilities are. Furthermore, if you don’t spend time building a firm foundation, it’s hard to move on to more difficult subject areas. Basic math is necessary for algebra which is imperative for the study of astrophysics. If I don’t know algebra, no matter how much I want to learn astrophysics, I’m not going to be able to do so. This applies to subjects both simple and complex. Guessing at whole words does not a strong reader make.

As I looked around the vendor hall I did not see what I was looking for. I didn’t see it years ago and I still don’t see it. What we were looking for was an academic pedagogy that guides and directs the training of minds; that affords study as worship; that pushes us beyond our own wants of the moment, that shore up our weaknesses. What I found in the vendor hall was some really great curriculum, lots of information on worldview and religious training and plenty of books, books and more books. Those are all good things. Necessary, but not sufficient.

We continued to seek for an educational method that actually taught people to learn and think and seek, that taught the benefits and joy of discipline, that increased knowledge and wisdom. I found all that in the Classical Model of Education.

Classical Education provides a methodology that is time tested, works effectively, trains the brain to retain, gives your child the gift of knowing what they know, and provides a clear incremental, sequential, logical path that points the way to what’s next. Now, if you are thinking to yourself that you are not a left brain, logical sequential learner or thinker, don’t worry. I’m not either. I’m a big picture, random, global thinker who needs to know the why and where of things. I think in Venn diagrams, not time-lines themes, not specific details. The classical pedagogy is not a formulaic plan for a specific type of thinker. It provides a plan for any type of thinker.

That is part of the beauty of it: classical education works regardless of your abilities or lack thereof.

Using a classical pedagogy has saved us thousands of dollars. Why? I’m not second guessing choices nor am I catering to fun or my kids learning style or the latest homeschooling fad. I’m not comparing myself to the draconian homeschooler or the radical unschooler or the Christian school or the public school. I’m simply following the path and pattern of assured academic success. And we have lots of fun along the way. Furthermore, my children know the deep and lasting satisfaction of sustained effort that bring forth excellent results.

While many pedagogies tend to focus on either skills or content, classical education focuses on skill building and content. Students end up with more tools in their academic toolbox and a better appreciation of how to apply them.

With a clear vision of what I want and how to get it, I look around the vendor hall and purchase very little – some audio books and signed copies from a favorite author – and was totally at peace. I already have a clear plan in place for next year. This plan requires some research and planning on my part but no desperate searching or pressured buying or frantic questioning. I’m just sticking to the plan we implemented years ago and trusting that it’s going to yield the results it’s known for.

Classical Ed, all the way, Baby!

 

Lisa hasImage homeschooled her 5 kids for 23 years, 3 of whom have graduated. She continues to homeschool her two youngest and has recently re-entered the working world. You can find her blogging at Golden Grasses

Why Classical and Why Now? by Apryl

 

Our homeschooling adventure did not start out with Classical Education in mind. In fact, I had never even heard of Classical Education, nor did I know a thing about educational theory. I just knew that I could provide a better education than my children were receiving at school. They were in the 3rd and 6th grades when they came home to stay.

We started off, as many new homeschooling families do, with an all-in-one curriculum. Then, as I discovered the gaps in my children’s education and began to see how they learned best, we moved towards a literature-based curriculum. I began to read more about homeschooling methods and began to frequent homeschooling forums online. That is how I came across The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer.

The Well-Trained Mind put into words the thoughts I had swirling around in my head about the kind of education I wish I had had as a child. It made me realize that I wanted something better for my own children.

We began to study history in a four year cycle. Latin and Greek entered our home. Great Books were read. While I never followed The Well-Trained Mind methods exactly, our homeschool began to have a classical flavor that it didn’t have before. The girls learned how to ask questions. They became familiar with the great minds from our past. They developed critical thinking and a desire to obtain wisdom. They began to show an intellectual maturity that I did not see in many of their peers; they could ask the deep questions and have deep discussions.

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Since Classical Education entered our home fairly late in the game, our eclectic methods have only a strong flavor of the classical. There are things I wish I had done differently, or had learned before my children ever set foot in a public school classroom. Now, though, my thoughts are shifting away from their education, and more towards the future of education in general.

I have begun reading more about the Great Conversation, and begun to think about the studies I want to pursue at home, for myself, such as logic, and a deeper study of the classics. The developments in the public education of our youth are becoming more of a focus for me, and the ways a Classical Education could improve the ability of future generations to problem-solve are becoming more apparent. I am realizing that the failure to pass on the ideas of the great minds of the past to the potentially-great minds of the future would be tragic.

So why do I care at this point in the game, when we are so close to the end of our homeschool journey? I care because it doesn’t end with my children.  Someday they too will have choices to make about their own children’s education, and I want to be there to help them. However, the scope extends beyond my own family. There are millions of parents out there who are looking at homeschooling for the first time; I want to be able to facilitate homeschooling for those families. I want to be able to explain the benefits of a Classical Education and point them towards the resources that can help them achieve it.

Finally, I want to do it for myself. A spark ignited in my mind as a small child, lit by my father: He gave me books. They weren’t easy readers or picture books. He gave me Aesop’s Fables, Bulfinch’s Mythology, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. They were gloriously thick, hard-bound editions that were not watered down. He handed them to me with the expectation that I could and would read and understand them at the ripe old age of seven or eight. He encouraged reading in a way that was nothing like what I encountered in the public school system. It sparked that desire to learn for learning’s sake, a desire that has stayed with me far beyond my school years and I expect will be there for many years to come. I want to fan that spark into a flame and watch it spread to the next generation.

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“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

― T.H. White, The Once and Future King

 

 

Apaprylryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Why Classical Education? Latin as a Foundational Subject in Our Homeschool, by Cheryl

 

How I Found the Classical Method

The decision to homeschool seemed easy compared to the decision about how to homeschool. What curriculum? Boxed/all-in-one? Separate programs? If I pick separate programs, what subjects? What company do I buy from? What level? I needed some help.

For kindergarten we worked through the What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know text from the Core Knowledge Series. It provided a list of topics to cover. We found books at the library for each topic and read, and read, and read. We did a few science experiments, and we worked through a first grade math book I picked up at the grocery store.

As I fell in love with homeschooling, I started looking at what I needed to do long-term. I checked out out every book our library had on homeschooling. It seemed that every time I returned one, they had two new choices! Most of the books laid out the different philosophies/methods of homeschooling: School at Home, Charlotte Mason method, classical method, unschooling, and eclectic were the most common. I knew I did not want “school at home” and I could not unschool as I need more structure. Classical seemed too difficult for me to do on my own. I needed more information, so I started digging into books on the specific philosophies.

The first book that I really connected with was A Charlotte Mason Education: A Homeschooling How To Manual by Catherine Levison. She presents Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy in a concise format. I fell in love with her methods and started to read Mason’s full homeschooling series. I loved the idea of short lessons and the subjects she laid out; also, I wanted the kids to learn multiple languages. And I could not wait to get outside with them.

It became clear to me very quickly that I needed a little more guidance and structure than Levinson’s book gave; and with two kids and a new business, I was not going to make it through all of Mason’s original works. I went back to the library and came home with two books: The Core by Leigh A. Bortins and The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, both of them takes on the classical method. As I read The Core, I started to see that a classical education was what I had wanted for my kids (the Charlotte Mason method is very similar to classical). I moved on to The Well-Trained Mind, and I fell more in love with the philosophy. Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise laid out full plans to get the kids through high school. The Well-Trained Mind made classical seem doable.

I used suggestions from both books as I selected curriculum for first grade. We started with The Story of the World vol 1, Singapore Math, Rod and Staff English 2, Real Science for Kids, and Classical Conversations Foundations for memory work and an intro to Latin (we did this at home, not in a community). These programs worked so well that we have stuck with them all for three years. We have added a separate Latin program, Prima Latina and Latina Christiana, as well as a separate writing program, Institute for Excellence in Writing.

Why I Follow the Classical Method

Several ideas of the classical philosophy appealed to me: The focus on history and literature, the following of a four-year cycle for history and science, and the study of Latin. I am a horrible speller, and although I speak and write well, I don’t fully understand grammar. I also struggle when learning foreign languages. As I read about why we should study Latin, I realized that this could help my kids overcome the obstacles that held me back.

Why do we study a language that no one speaks anymore? Why study a “dead language?”

We do it because of the influence Latin has had on our language and so many others! Our study of Latin reinforces many grammar topics we study for English. The conjugation of verbs is very similar to that of French and Spanish, and the knowledge of Latin vocabulary is helping my son to understand words in the English language. Many English words have Latin roots, so understanding where the word comes from helps with spelling, meaning, and pronunciation.

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When my son asks why he has to learn Latin, I use my limited memory of French (3 years in school) and Spanish (7 years in school) to show him the similarities between the three languages. I also pick a few big words that can be broken down into their Latin roots to find the meaning of the word. Because he is interested in science, we discuss how science uses Latin, among other things, to name animals and plants.

We study Latin now, in the hopes that it will aid in learning other subjects down the road. We are already seeing the benefits of our hard work and as we learn more, we will make more connections through our other studies.

 

Cherylcheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

The World From the Outside In: Why I Chose Classical Homeschooling, by Lynne

 

I was led by the hand into the world of modern-day classical homeschooling by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. Their wonderful book, The Well-Trained Mind, spoke to my heart in a way that changed my whole outlook on my responsibility to see that my children received a good education.

I had never been satisfied with the education I received in school. It always felt as if I was learning bits and pieces of information, but that I was missing the big picture. I read these two sentences about classical education in the Overview portion of TWTM, and nearly wept:

It is language-intensive, not image focused.  It demands that students use and understand words, not video images.

It is history-intensive, providing students with a comprehensive view of the human endeavor from the beginning until now.

That second sentence is the one that really pierced me. In my view of the world, not enough of us have a “comprehensive view of the human endeavor,” and that is why we have so many repeated conflicts. We’re missing the big picture.

So I chose classical homeschooling for myself, at first, and not really for my kids. I wanted this education. I wanted to learn about the world and my place in it from the outside in, not the other way around. I wanted a strong, language-based education that focused on knowing how and why to do things. I wanted my education to feel complete and not scattered. I wanted this for me. I knew that if I chose this method for my kids, we would all be learning together. I was really excited.

I was so overjoyed when I read TWTM that I insisted my husband read through the first part of the book, the part which explains what classical homeschooling meant for the Wise family. He thought the book’s ideas about education were compelling and he admired my enthusiasm, but in all sincerity, he thought I should run for the school board and try to implement this type of learning in our public school system. That led to several discussions/arguments about how even if by some miracle that were to work, it would never happen in time for our own children to benefit from it. My husband was adamant that he wanted the kids to go to school. He had no room in his brain for the concept of homeschooling.

Fast forward into the middle of two rather unsettling and disappointing years in school for our oldest, and my husband and I had yet another discussion about the possibility of homeschooling. He said to me, “I’m never going to agree to homeschooling.” I said to him, “You don’t seem to understand that I’m not agreeing to the current schooling situation.”  Well, that put a different spin on it for him. Shortly after that conversation, I had a truly mind-boggling conversation with several members of the school “team,” and when I shared this conversation with my husband, he finally agreed to give homeschooling a try.

We followed TWTM model of schooling, somewhat loosely. I subscribe to the philosophy that the grammar stage was for building the foundational skills for learning. We read lots of books, and learned about the composition of language. We listened to The Story of the World and learned math facts. My little boys, who had been bored and not challenged in school, were soaking up information and learning things at their own pace. For my older son, I was able to tailor our lessons to his emotional and physical needs, as well.

During those first years, I attended homeschool conferences and hung out on homeschool chat forums. I perused other types of curriculum and chatted with moms whose kids were doing online schooling. I learned that families choose the type of learning that matches their lifestyle. I’ve seen some other methods of schooling up close, and I can say that I admire the families that make those methods work for them. However, the more I see of other methods, the more committed I am to a classical model for our family.

Through our studies, we all seem to learn and grow in our understanding of the world at large as a whole. Studying Latin helps us to see how language has provided continuity throughout the centuries. Learning about poetry helps us understand the human condition. I don’t feel pressured to complete any curriculum. I feel honored to be on the journey with my kids to discover all that the library has to offer, and all that the world can be.

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lynneLynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.

Why Classical Education? High Standards, Customized, by Jen W.

 

I described in an earlier article how we fell into homeschooling. We fell into classical education in a similar manner. The Well-Trained Mind (TWTM) was first released in 1999, at the same time I was seeking information about homeschooling my eldest daughter. The ideas behind a neo-classical education appealed to me, from the idea of the Trivium to reading whole works of literature instead of excerpts from a textbook. Boxed curricula isn’t something that appealed to me; it didn’t feel natural or different enough from traditional school.

I combed through TWTM, carefully researching various programs and making elaborate schedules, even writing out a lesson plan for the entire year…in PEN! (I know, all of the veteran homeschooling moms are laughing now.) We’ve all been there, and most of us have figured out that it doesn’t generally work out as well in practice as it does in our heads or even on paper.

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Over the years, I’ve noticed that there are various reactions from people when they find out I follow the ideas of classical education. They might get defensive, explaining why they didn’t want to do Latin. They might think I have too much time on my hands, that I am, in essence, designing my own curriculum. They might even say that it’s too stringent, not allowing time for creative play or to play to the strengths or weaknesses of a student. None of those things have been true in my experience.

My eldest is a senior this year. She completed two levels of Latin Primer before moving to Henle. She did Rosetta Stone Spanish and spent a year in a Spanish class for homeschooled kids. She suffered through the well-known boring but thorough “Traditional Logic.” She struggled through a variety of math programs before we found our groove. What did I learn? I learned that I was able to follow classical ideas in areas in which I am very comfortable while mixing more traditional forms of learning if and when I found it appropriate.

I majored in literature, and come from a family of history buffs. Those areas are my comfort zones. We follow TWTM closely in those subjects. I am less comfortable in science and math. We tend to use more traditional texts in those subjects. It may seem presumptuous (even sacrilegious!) to some people that I bastardize the program so heavily. But, when you listen to lectures that Susan Wise Bauer has given, read her blog, and watch videos from Peace Hill Press, you quickly realize that the intent was for you to pick and choose to customize your child’s education as you wish. The lists and schedules found in TWTM are descriptions of what might happen in a perfect world and while teaching a perfect child. But neither our world nor our children are perfect. We can adjust and allow for those imperfections.

The moment I realized I had been way too strict came when I was watching a video of Susan’s daughter doing spelling with a crayon. I never would have let my kids use crayon to write spelling words until that moment. I allowed myself to let go of the little things that only matter in a more traditional classroom. Why not do a spelling lesson in crayon? I try to ask myself that question more often now instead of strictly following a nebulous idea of a perfect classroom world. I’ve attended conventions, heard “experts” and spoken with veteran homeschool moms from all walks of life. None of our homeschools are perfect. There are “experts” whose child received a crash course in the 5-paragraph essay the week before the SAT or who had to spend two months doing nothing but Algebra because they fell so far behind. But, the education that they had received allowed them to quickly absorb and tackle the areas in which they were lacking.

The end goals of my homeschool are what I try to think about now. How do I help them love to learn? How do I help them learn to learn? What basic foundational tools will they need to accomplish those things? Learning to read fluently is a big one. Having a solid idea about the flow of history and how historical events relate to one another is another. Learning the basic language of math is the third. How to write a paper with a logical argument, sell themselves and comport themselves in public is the last (and yes, I think these are all tightly related). Everything else is a bonus.

I think one of the things that has helped my kids remain interested in learning is that I am interested in learning. When we make a scale model of the solar system, and I say, “WOW! Look how far away the sun is! That is amazing!” Well, they think that it’s amazing. I don’t think the fact that a text told us to make a scale model of the solar system makes it less delightful. How would I know how much delight I would take in creme brûlée, if I didn’t know that creme brûlée existed? When we talk about a book that we’ve both read and what we think it means, it has more meaning for them than a book I found too boring to read myself. I gave myself permission to do what I felt strongly about, even when it may have been put down as “too easy” here or there. For example, with my third child I finally learned my lesson about logic stage history. He is going through Story of the World a second time. I added videos, more difficult books, the tests, he outlines from a separate spine, etc. But, he is retaining the information better with the benefit of the narrative history text. So, I let go of the idea that he “should be” moving on to something higher level or more difficult in favor of better retention. Other moms will make different choices, and that’s okay!

In the end, this is what I like about neo-classical education. It is highly customizable. It allows you to work to your strengths and the strengths of your child. It allows you to shore up your weaknesses or your child’s weaknesses. It allows you to adjust texts and works of literature, and/or focus in history to feed the fires of your child’s interests. Most veteran homeschool moms who persevere throughout the school years learn these things the hard way. Listen to them. Learn from their experiences and relax a bit. It will make your home and your homeschool happier places to be.

Next year my eldest will head to college classes. She will be attending our local community college because (as a military family) we are likely to move the summer after her freshman year. I have no doubt that she will be successful both there and after she transfers to a four-year school. I know she will be successful despite (or maybe because of–who really knows?) my educational experimenting.

 

Jen W.– Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jejen_wn started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.