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.

What Can Jane Austen Tell Us About How to Choose a Spouse? by Jen W.

 

A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.

I will never forget sitting in a college survey class as a literature major while a nursing student complained about Pride and Prejudice. “It’s unromantic! It’s boring! Darcy is such a jerk!” Even at 18 years old, the comments made me believe that I had an idea of why divorce rates were so high. I didn’t think it was unromantic or boring, but I have a pretty good idea why other young women believed it was so. “Romance” has been sold as a product for a very long time, but the idea of what it means changes with the times. There is a famous correspondence between Charlotte Bronte and the literary critic George Henry Lewes in which Bronte roundly criticizes Austen as lacking in wildness and passion. Obviously, the books of the Bronte sisters have those things in spades. But, heroes like Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester would raise the eyebrows of any sane parent, just as Edward, the sulky vampire from Twilight, would likely do today in reality.

And that is the trouble with stories that tout the value of fantasy over reality. Sure, many women find men who brood and obsess over them to be exciting on some level. But, these are often the women who wind up pressing domestic violence charges against their partners later. Obsession, unlike what the perfume commercials would have you believe, is an unhealthy emotion. These types of relationships are hardly a recipe for domestic bliss.

It’s true, Jane Austen died nearly two hundred years ago when the lives of the women she wrote about were very different than the many choices that women living in much of the world have today. It is also true that she never married, so what would she know about choosing a spouse? But I contend that a large part of the reason that she is both popular and relevant today is that she was a shrewd observer of human nature, and those observances resonate today. But they resonate in the realities of long-term relationships, balancing a family and running a household instead of engaging in a love affair. Having a torrid love affair simply shouldn’t be anybody’s main goal in life, and it isn’t good enough reason to get married.

Novels, since the birth of the genre, have been full of rejected, seduced, and abandoned maidens, whose proper fate is to die. 

In Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, she focuses on the plight of a family of women who have not been treated kindly by their only living male relative. They are basically left destitute and rely on the charity of a distant relative. This focus provides a theme that continues through several of Austen’s books, the relative lack of economic and political power of women. Gothic novels are full of young women whose fates are exactly as described in the above quote. But, Austen hoped to give her heroines a chance at a happy, stable life. 

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The novel’s sisters, Marianne and Elinor, are a pair of contrasting heroines whose lack of economic status hampers their ability to marry decently, the only possible salvation from their current destitute status. Marianne is the “sensible” sister of the pair, however, this word at the time had a very different meaning than it does now. Today, we might call Marianne a free spirit or artsy or sensitive or even emotional. By contrast, her sister Elinor represents “sense.” In this context, it shows that she is intelligent, reserved and displays good judgment. We expect to see these two sides at war, but in truth, what we find in the end is that the desired result, according to Austen, is a balance between the two. Elinor nearly loses her chance at love by not being forward enough while Marianne comes close to ruination by sharing too much of her sensitivity and passion with a man not committed to her.

How about the men in the novel? Elinor is attracted to Edward Ferrars because he is intelligent, pleasant-mannered and steady. His sense of duty initially holds him back as he is promised to another and his restraint hurts Elinor. In the end, it is his sense of duty that allows him freedom of choice, and he chooses Elinor. Marianne, on the other hand is first attracted to John Willoughby, a dashing young man who flirts with and flatters Marianne. I’m certain that he sends her pulse racing in a manner that Charlotte Bronte would have approved of. He leads her to believe that he intends to marry her, and she allows him to take a lock of her hair, earning her the disapproval of the more careful Elinor. But he needs a wife of financial means. Even though he claims to love Marianne long after he has given her up, he has treated her in an unkind and careless manner. This is not how you should treat the person that you love. We later find out that Willoughby has impregnated and abandoned at least one other young woman, leaving an impression that this could have been Marianne’s fate as well. Marianne marries Colonel Brandon in the end. He is constant, kind, and takes her into his confidence with painful secrets in order to save her feelings. It is through making wise choices of marriage partners that the women gain both in love and in economics.

I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.

Arguably her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice continues the discussion of women and their lack of economic power. As the novel opens, a wealthy and eligible bachelor has moved into a country neighborhood. This new addition has thrown the neighborhood, particularly the Bennet family, into a tizzy. You see, the Bennets have five daughters, an entailed estate, no male heir, and have saved little to support the girls upon their father’s death. The girls attend a local ball at which time we are introduced to not just one, but two rich bachelors!

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This focus on the wealth of potential suitors seems predatory, especially for modern readers. But, as the novel slowly unveils, it becomes clear that the financial future of the Bennet ladies is full of peril. The wacky family members, the financial distress, the fact that all of the girls are “out”– all of these things spell trouble of the sort that tends to scare off potential suitors.

What types of character traits does Austen find desirable and which does she condemn? Certain we see the condemnation of an excess of pride. Elizabeth’s pride blinds her to the true character of those around her until she is, nearly tragically, proven wrong. Mr. Darcy’s pride is what spurs him to deliver what is arguably one of the worst marriage proposals in history. Both learn to think outside of their personal scope to see the viewpoints of one another.

Other character traits that are undesirable include the flighty, nervous nature of Mrs. Bennet; the self-importance and the fawning, false flattery of Mr. Collins; the overt snobbery of Lady Catherine de Bourgh; Mr. Wickham’s gambling, indebtedness and womanizing; the wishy-washy behavior of Mr. Bingley; the rudeness and meddling of Caroline Bingley. Really, the book at times seems to be a parade of bad behavior and manners. But, by contrast, we have the kindness of Jane, the wit and vivacity of Elizabeth, the dutiful nature of Mr. Darcy. But, what does Mr. Darcy really do to recommend him in marriage? What is it that makes Elizabeth change her mind?

First, she reads the letter he gives her the morning after the disastrous proposal and learns the truth of her incorrect beliefs and the true wrong that Mr. Wickham has done to Mr. Darcy. The fact the he willingly reveals such painful events is the very beginning of intimacy between the two. We first begin to see real change in Darcy when he accidentally surprises Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. They are on a tour of country estates. He catches Elizabeth off guard by how kind he is to her relatives. He speaks to them as equals. He invites her uncle to come fishing. She learns to see beneath the surface. He learns to open up enough to take care of people outside his direct circle.

The story of Pride and Prejudice is romantic because he takes Elizabeth’s offenses to heart. He opens himself up in ways that are uncomfortable for him. He takes her into his inner circle. He accepts her family. He takes care of her reputation. He defies his own extended family for love of her. He accepts her lower circumstances because he finally realizes that her circumstances have made her the woman that he loves. Likewise, Elizabeth comes to see Darcy as deep, sensitive, caring, intelligent and dutiful. He would never embarrass her like Mr. Collins might. He would never run up debts or attempt to seduce vulnerable young women like Wickham does. He won’t mistreat the people around him as Lady Catherine de Bourgh does. He won’t misspend his money, putting her future children in jeopardy as her own father did. He will take care of her and cherish her in every way.

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.

The third novel that we’ll look at is Persuasion. An interesting point in this novel is that our heroine, Anne Elliot is the wealthy but less favored daughter of a lord while her only real love interest had been turned away several years before due to his lowly social status. In the meantime, he has raised himself to a distinguished rank in the British Navy (as did Austen’s two brothers) and accumulated a fortune as a successful Navy Captain. Anne Elliot is a beleaguered soul. She is considered a spinster at 27 years old. Her father is in debt due to over-spending, but still maintaining his snobbery. One sister shares these tendencies. The other sister is married and more than a bit of a drama queen, languishing in “ill health” or hysterics when she isn’t the center of attention. The surrounding cast of extended family members and friends simply do not share Anne’s kindness or true refinement of a sort that doesn’t come from fashion or money.

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Captain Frederick Wentworth returns to Anne’s life suddenly when his sister and brother-in-law rent her family home (it is being rented out in order to bring some income back into the coffers). He is aloof and treats her in a manner that shows he still carries the hurts of the past. He even praises one of the young women of their acquaintance for her headstrong manner when she vows not to let the opinions of other people sway her. He makes small efforts to take care of and protect her. But, when this turns to near tragedy, he quickly realizes that this isn’t necessarily the course of a wise woman.

In the meantime, her cousin and her father’s heir, Mr. Elliot, attempts to court her. She finds him attractive. His manners are pleasant and easy. He pays attention to her, which is a huge thing in and of itself for Anne’s confidence and mood. And yet, she doesn’t believe he is being truly open or honest. She tells Lady Russell (who encourages the match just as she discouraged Anne’s acceptance of Frederick’s proposal so many years before) that they would not suit. But Frederick doesn’t recognize Anne’s attempts to put off Mr. Elliott for what they are.

Finally, Frederick overhears Anne passionately explaining to another that women are the most constant in love, never giving up, even when all hope seems lost. This actually renews his own hope and spurs him into action. He writes her a beautiful letter, and she quickly rushes to reconcile with him. They are finally reconciled and their engagement renewed. Ultimately, this is a story of interrupted love in which the problems are overcome by forgiveness.

What traits does Austen warn us about? Vanity, not just in others but she warns us not to succumb to that trait within ourselves, giving over to false flattery. She warns about over-spending, urging economy, frugality and financial planning. She warns about both appearing too frivolous and too serious. She warns both about being too wishy-washy and too headstrong, instead urging us to approach problems with logic and a sense of balance. We should invest ourselves in quality people who are kind, who love us in spite of our many faults or the need to forgive us for past or present hurts. We should match up with spouses who are willing to put up with, take care of and socialize with our family, even when those family members we love are wacky, not socially appropriate or a bit crazy. We should look for ways they take care of us instead of associating with us when it is convenient or they get something out of it. It’s true that things like caring for your family may not seem as wildly romantic on the surface as digging up your grave or creepily watching you sleep. But, solid marriages aren’t made of people without normal coping mechanisms. I advise young women and men to look to Austen for advice on choosing a spouse instead of the Bronte sisters or Stephanie Meyer. You’ll be happier for it.

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.

Deserts: The Next Stop on the Biomes Tour! by Cheryl

 

Previously in our Biomes series: Grasslands

Why did we select deserts as our second biome? Because I found some amazing books at the library that I could not wait to dive into with my kids! Our study of the desert led us on a journey around the world with a look at some fun plants and animals.

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Books

As with our grasslands study, I picked up all of the books at our local library. Click the links to see the books. I will start by listing our two favorites!

Desert Days, Desert Nights by Roxie Munro has beautifully illustrated pictures of the North American Deserts during the day and at night. It is a search a find book that my kids truly enjoyed! For each desert, she has a daytime picture and a nighttime picture that illustrated the diurnal and nocturnal (vocab words from our grassland study!) animals of the desert. It made a fun introduction to our study.

Looking Closely Across the Desert by Frank Serifini takes closeup pictures of things found in the desert and has you guess what it could be. Each close up is followed by a full picture and description of the animal, plant, or land feature.

Life in Extreme Enviroments: Life in the Desert by Katherine Lawrence holds some great information on the topic. We did not read the whole thing; we looked at the plant and animal sections and skimmed the sections on people who live in the desert. Not because the book was a problem–my kids’ focus was a problem that day!

About Habitats: Deserts by Cathryn Sill is wonderfully illustrated by John Sill. We found some fun facts, and thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations!

America’s Deserts by Marianne D. Wallace was another book full of great illustrations!

Draw Write Now Book 8 by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer contains the lessons that correspond to the desert study.

Animals

We learned about some fun animals who make their homes in the desert. We also discovered that some animals we find in grasslands can be found in deserts as well. The pronghorn was one we found in both biomes. Other animals (and insects) of the desert include: horned lizards, javelinas, termites, ants, giant desert centipedes, stink beetles, roadrunners, desert iguanas, red racers, scorpions, turkey vultures, sidewinder rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, mule deer, kit foxes, gray foxes, and diamondbacks.

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Our favorite desert plant is the saguaro cactus. We even made up a silly game to help my five-year-old remember what it is. Anytime someone yells, “Saguaro!” you must stop where you are and hold both arms up at right angles, like the cartoon cacti we have seen in books and movies.

Other plants to look for: golden poppy, agave, Joshua trees, teddy bear chollas, welwitschia

Vocabulary

Arid, Sonoran Desert, Mojave Desert, Gobi Desert, Saharan Desert, Syrian Desert, Arctic Desert, estivate/aestivate, antivenin, tap root, oasis, wadi

 

Lapbook

We added a desert section to our  lap book. We also added another animal behavior piece. Our books are broken down into sections: Each biome has a section, with a separate section at the front for the general information on plants and animals that we come across.

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Our lap book pages for deserts

Cheryl–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 cherylcooking 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.

Next time: Rainforests!

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.

When Homeschooling Isn't Going Well: 101 Questions to Ask Yourself, by Sheryl

 

We’ve all had those awful homeschooling moments. The ones where you look around at your kids and realize that everyone is going through the motions, but their education isn’t where you want it to be. Tears are flowing, projects are left unfinished, grades drop, and your visions of the perfect homeschool vanish.

When my crew is in the thick of homeschooling, it is easy to just put our “noses to the grindstone” and do the next thing. I focus on getting work done but rarely question the work itself. This has come to some disastrous results. At one point, I suddenly realized that I had been reteaching my daughter how to count to 10 for years. Something was wrong. I had to put everything on hold while I spent time in agonizing self-reflection to pinpoint how to proceed with getting her learning disability diagnosed and altering all of our lessons to reflect reality. It was a harsh change from my dream of what school would look like, and it was apparent that something needed to change. But what?

Self-examination is required if we are to look critically and find the source of the problem, but true self-examination is difficult. It requires us to analyze every aspect of our approach, including our methods, assumptions, and biases. It requires deep honesty and a courageous willingness to challenge our own beliefs.

Nobody likes to have their assumptions challenged, and we certainly don’t want to have our self-assessment reveal that we are contributing in any way to our children’s struggles. It is easy to avoid doing this work, but challenging our assumptions, objectives, and yes, even homeschooling itself, will push us to become better.

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Get a pen and notepad or download our assessment form. We are going to mercilessly examine your school. For each question below, you will look at the following areas.
You will need five columns.

1. The original question

2. What are your assumptions?

3. In what do you base that belief?

4. Should you challenge this belief? If so, how?

5. To do.

Okay, ready?

The basics: Academic Reassessment

    • Are you on track to complete the school year?
    • Look at each subject independently. Are your kids struggling or mastering material?
    • What methods are working best?
    • What causes the most tears?
    • What creates the most joy?
    • How do the kids feel about school in general? Are they excited, content, anxious?
    • What one subject do you most feel that you need to tweak to fit your homeschool?
    • What is holding you back?
    • What do you really not want to change?
    • What materials did you pay too much for?
    • Look at each outside activity independently. Is it a good fit for your child?
    • Are there any signs of learning disabilities? What are they?
    • What subject are you not spending enough time on?
    • What subject are you spending too much time on?
    • What should you drop entirely?
    • Do you know your children’s learning styles? Do your lessons reflect this?
    • Is your record keeping system working well for you?
    • Are you pushing or challenging your students?
    • Are your children exploring on their own?

Leave room for imperfection. Not all students are capable of straight As, and purchased materials don’t come with charts that factor in exactly how to handle that month of drastic illness you suffered. It is okay to not be perfectly in sync with where you want to be, but strive to find a balance point.

Home Reassessment

    • In general, how is your home running?
    • How many days are you out of the house?  Do you feel okay with that number?
    • What one area are you struggling most in? (cooking, cleaning, laundry, time management, outside activities)
    • Are you delegating well?
    • Are your school supplies well organized and easy to reach?
    • Is there clutter that is distracting you or the kids from schoolwork?
    • How well is your routine working for you?
    • What time of day is best for your students? Worst?
    • What doesn’t work well for you as the teacher? As Mom?
    • Do you find yourself scrambling right before lessons to find the supplies you need?

If your time management is out of order, take a moment to do a bit of backwards planning and see where your time hogs are. This will help you to determine exactly what to keep, what to drop, and where to buckle down and simply work faster.

Relationship Reassessment

    • Is there a specific subject, topic, or time of day that seems to create the worst attitudes?
    • Are you feeling distant from any of your children?
    • How well do your children interact with one another?
    • Is your child’s relationship with your spouse positive?
    • Are there discipline issues that you need to focus on?
    • Are the kids healthy?
    • Would you describe your children as happy?
    • Are there any physical or emotional impairments that should be considered?
    • What is the role of religion in your home? Is this helping your relationships?
    • Are you demonstrating good manners and consideration?
    • Do your children have friends who are a good influence?
    • What are you doing to help your children to build strong friendships with others?
    • Are special projects and field trips helping or hurting your relationships?

Self Reassessment

How is your own attitude? Our kids feed off of our energy, and our attitude can set the mood for the entire family’s day, week or even year. Remember, be completely honest with yourself while doing this assessment. Our kids learn more from what they see us do than what they hear us say.

    • Are you healthy?
    • Would you describe yourself as happy? Would others?
    • Are your daily actions demonstrating what you believe to be true?
    • Are you available to help with lessons when needed?
    • Does being needed frustrate you?
    • Are there changes that should be made in your diet or exercise routine?
    • What are you most afraid of? Is that fear impacting your life right now?
    • What methods or materials are you using simply because they are easy?
    • What are you neglecting?
    • What one thing should you stop doing?
    • Is there one subject that you can delegate?
    • What distracts you?
    • Are you hovering or empowering?
    • How comfortable are you with the amount of preparation you need to do?
    • What are you doing really well?

The hard part: Goal Reassessment

These may seem like fluff questions, but they are really at the heart of the matter.

    • Why are you homeschooling?
    • What is it that you want to achieve at the end of your child’s school career?
    • Is your child on track for college entry?
    • What should your child know by the end of this year? Be realistic and specific.
    • What teaching philosophy do you believe in most? Do your lessons reflect this?
    • If you could pick only one priority, what would you teach your kids?
    • Are you accountable to anyone?
    • What is the most important change you need to make?
    • Is homeschooling right for your children?

Just do it

This is where the rubber meets the road. You now have a list of things that you would like to improve. Things that can help revitalize yourself, your home, your school, and your kids. It’s a long list. It is challenging, and it may involve some pretty major changes.

At this point you must remember that the purpose of re-assessment isn’t to point out all  your failures or inadequacies; it is to find the areas where you can make positive changes. None of us feel like we are “doing it right.” We are all concerned that our child isn’t progressing perfectly in one subject or another, and we all have areas in which we need to improve. No one is capable of making giant changes all at once. Choose just a few areas that you feel will be the most beneficial to your kids’ school experience and focus on only that.

Reassessment is just the first step in the process.  Are you ready to find out what changes you need to make?  Download the assessment form and get started.

 

Sherysheryll–Sheryl is living her dream in the house on Liberty Hill where she is a full time wife, mother, and teacher. She is passionate about turning children’s natural curiosity into activities that will inspire, enlighten, and entertain. Learn more about her adventures at libertyhillhouse.com

Homeschool is for the–SQUIRREL! by Faith

 

I was homeschooled for a few years off and on as a child. My parents used various methods and curricula (or no curricula at all), mixed in with various schools, the gifted program, moving around to new schools and programs–lather, rinse, and repeat. I swore that I would never homeschool my child. I would go crazy. I wanted maybe two children, tops, and they would go to school so I could catch a break. Homeschooling moms were crazy.

Well, I can’t say the last sentence is wrong! Some days I do feel absolutely insane. Sign me up for the loony bin. But we are doing what is best for our family, which didn’t turn out exactly as I had designed it in my head as a teenager.

My oldest child was born while I was in college and working full-time, trading shifts with hubby. My daughter, The Sponge, was adorable, charming, sweet, and we realized we really wanted more. So we had another shortly thereafter, giving us two girls two years apart.

That second girl, The Drama, was an extremely challenging babe. She ended up in Early Intervention, where she received therapy for severe sensory issues, speech and communication issues, and hearing issues from hidden/symptomless ear infections. So when The Drama, my wild child, began to surpass her elder sister in areas of self-control, attention span, ability to sit, ability to listen to anything read aloud, and more, I realized that perhaps The Sponge wasn’t quite on a normal developmental track.

The older she grew, the more pronounced her issues became. The children around her grew, matured, and settled. She did not. My visiting parents commented it was a miracle she was still alive. At 5.5 years, she was still running in front of cars in the street. She ran off wherever and whenever the fancy struck, honestly seemed not to hear people speaking at all; she literally seemed to have a disconnect between her brain and her body. In the moment, she was unable to control herself in any way, even if it meant putting her life in obvious and grave danger. The filter between “what I want to do” and “what I should do/reality/safety/rules” seemed to be completely missing.

She was even unable to handle her once-a-week 50-min Sunday School class without getting in trouble. We tried diet changes, supplements like omega-3 oils, and routines. She continued endangering her own life. When even my friend, a super-hippie, energy-work lady, recommended I take her to see a doctor, I was more than ready. At least it wasn’t just me!

During these formative years, The Sponge maintained a strange relationship with learning. She would hide in the back room, grab the workbooks I had bought for fun at the thrift store, and work through pages and pages and pages and pages without stopping. She could draw for 8 hours straight, but not sit still for two minutes for an actual lesson without nearly going insane. She would literally cry if an audiobook was turned on. She read on her own at three, but would cry and run away if I tried to teach her phonics. She adored logic, infinity, and negative numbers, but couldn’t add and had no grasp of place value. The Sponge was capable of upper elementary science as a preschooler, drank it in like, well, a sponge, and would chatter away about advanced details of anatomy and physiology.

So, how do YOU think school went for her?

First she went to preschool for 2.5 years, thanks to the generosity and love of the nursery school teacher at our church. Preschool was two hours of art, playtime, snack, and behavioral expectations aimed at children younger than she was, in a group of 4-6 children. That she could handle. Usually. She also rattled off constant questions to the teacher on why things worked they way they worked, why the crow was black, on and on and on. In such a small group with such young children, that was fine. She had a late birthday, so she was in preschool and half homeschooled for her kindergarten year (age five), simply because she couldn’t go into a school at her age.

When she was finally old enough for kindergarten, I signed The Sponge up for a multi-sensory charter school. It sounded fabulous on paper. Yet despite being a charter school, the academics were the opposite of rigorous. The packet she was to complete by the end of the year? Apart from knowing her address and phone number, she could have finished the entire thing on her first day–if she could have sat still long enough to fill in more than a few lines at a time, which she couldn’t. She was still at a preschool level of attention and control.

She had a long bus ride(starting at 6:45am!) to a place where she already knew what they were learning, and she was bored out of her mind. This does not help a hyperactive kid, by the by. Before the end of the first week, she was lying and faking sick to try and avoid school. In kindergarten. The fun one.

After many fruitless attempts to contact the (hypothetical) school psychologist, I finally pulled The Sponge from that school. I found a charter school that offered one day a week of all of their fine arts programs to homeschoolers. They were happy to place her with her age peers in first grade for the day. I enrolled The Sponge there and she went once a week for the entire year. She still lied and threatened in order to avoid going in the mornings, because in her words, “I HATE SITTING STILL!” but I thought one day a week was worth it. It did not teach her to sit still, or improve her mental functioning in any real way, but she drew, sang, learned, made friends, and always came home cheerful, which was a welcome change. After that year, though, I knew a traditional school setting was not in the cards for this girl.

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Her learning was so asynchronous as to drive a normal person insane. She was five grade levels apart in various areas. She could not move past one-step math problems. She could not hold the first number in her head while she did the second part. Making ten? Adding past one place value? Not possible. Minute anatomical details and high-level science? Easy. This coincided with the recommendation of similarly anti-medication-minded friends to seek help for her issues before she got herself killed through sheer inattention to the world around her.

At an assessment at the pediatrician, she scored extremely high for ADHD and we began Adderall. The change was immediate. She was The Sponge, but with access to her brain. She could pause in that split second and make a choice; for the first time in her life, she could actually control her actions. She could hold numbers in her head, learned place value, learned how to write properly, and shot ahead in reading over the next year. Understanding her condition, her Sunday School teachers allowed her to color in class, which improved her behavior and her ability to answer questions tremendously. That year I homeschooled, and she learned and thrived.

Something else was still wrong, however. It was indefinable, but something was still not right in her brain. Things improved, but only partially. We regularly had to up the dosage of her medication, as it seemed to lose its efficacy. Tics began to show up and increased in prevalence. There was something else just…off in her thoughts and behavior. The pediatrician recommended a full evaluation by a professional.

Extensive testing found the missing pieces. The Sponge was diagnosed with a combination of Asperger’s, ADHD-Combined, and anxiety, plus Tourette’s. That was it. Asperger’s was the big missing piece in the equation. Her medication was switched to a non-stimulant, which reduced her tics and insomnia, plus an anti-anxiety/anti-tic medication that also boosts the effectiveness of ADHD medication. Two small pills, no stimulants. Elegant.

As it was a non-stimulant, the medicine took months to build to effectiveness. Thankfully it was summer, and I could send The Sponge out with her sister to play with friends, a new occupation once the medication began working–previously she had no interest in playing with actual people, only herself and her own games and experiments. In the period between stopping the stimulant and getting the non-stimulant up to an effective range, I was the parent of a hyperactive 2-year-old (ADHD Mode) or 30-year-old (Asperger’s/Anxiety Mode) in an 8-year-old’s body.

The medication is balanced now and she is capable of schoolwork again. The grade levels of her subjects are growing closer to normal, the asynchronous gaps shrinking. She is in a 13-week social skills program. Initially we all thought this program would prepare her for traditional school. However, as the weeks have gone by, I’ve seen how holding it together for the several-hour program takes all of her self-control, how she loses it when she comes home, how her anxiety spikes afterwards, and how she obsesses and over-analyzes the various parts of the program and every person in it. She could possibly manage to follow the rules and sit in a school setting next year, but it would take every ounce of her self-control and she would implode from the pressure.

In addition, she has very slow processing speed, so the work itself, if she could pay attention to it, would take her twice as long as everyone else. She would be doing homework the entire evening. Homeschooling is generally much more efficient than public school and can be completed in a fraction of the time, thanks to a lack of any busywork or crowd control or waiting for others. With The Sponge, we need a full school day of time to finish her work in this one-on-one setting. She would never manage to get it finished in a distracting environment where she is using every ounce of energy to sit still, remember the rules, follow the rules, plus not yell or blow her nose on her shirt or cry under her desk. She is thriving in homeschool: learning, closing gaps, and expanding her horizons. Homeschool is the best place for her right now. (She will be in a drama class with PS kids next year, though. She always needs some social practice!)

So, my kid is one of those Weird Homeschooled Kids. However, she would be the Weird Miserable Bullied Public School Kid or the Weird Miserable Bullied Charter School Kid if we didn’t homeschool. You can’t change Weird, but you certainly can tailor an education and life experience to Weird!

 

Faith–Faith is a highly distractable mother of four. She believes in doing what is best for each child and has experimented with various combinations of public, charter, and home schools. Her oldest child iFaiths diagnosed with Asperger’s with ADHD-Combined and anxiety, and she suspects her third child struggles with it, also. Faith is an unabashed feminist and “crunchy” mom, strongly LDS with a passion for knitting, avoiding cooking, and Harry Potter.