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.

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Longer Books to Read Aloud to Younger Children, by Jane-Emily

 

As a new mom, I couldn’t wait to start reading to my baby.  You know how it is; you’re just so excited about everything!  We read picture books together all the time, but by the time she was 3 or so I was just dying to read her longer books too, a chapter at a time.  Of course I was jumping the gun; she was not ready yet!  I had to wait a little while.  As my girls got bigger, though, I read to them quite a lot, and eventually made a list of my favorite read-alouds for ages 3-6 to share with my friends.

Most children will probably not be ready to listen to chapter stories until age 3.5 – 4.  It might be longer than that.  And, although most parents seem to immediately think of Winnie-the-Pooh, I found through personal experience that some other books with simpler storylines and larger illustrations should come first.  So, in order from simplest to more complex, here is my list of favorites:

  • My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett  This is a wonderful book to start with, featuring Elmer Elevator’s adventures with a baby dragon.  There are 3 books.  The first one has an odd habit of calling the protagonist “my father” instead of Elmer, but you can edit as you read if you wish.  My daughter promptly made Elmer Elevator her first imaginary friend, and we took him everywhere for a month or so.
  • 6a00cdf3ac0c23cb8f00cdf7f2f741094f-500piJenny and the Cat Club by Ester Averill Jenny is a shy black cat who longs to join the Cat Club.  She has several books of adventures and they are wonderful. (Don’t miss her friend, Pickles the Fire Cat.  He has his own easy reader.)
  • All About Sam by Lois Lowry  Funny stories about life from a baby-to-preschooler perspective.  There are four Sam books and the first two are the best, but they’re all fun.
  • The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley This sweet and very English book has stories of everyday life in a village.  Milly-Molly-Mandy has many gentle adventures that show how much a little girl can do.
  • Tales from Grimm  Most ‘real’ fairy tales are too intense and complex for little ones, but this selection from the author of Millions of Cats is an excellent first book of fairy tales.
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder The rest of these classics should wait a while, but this first title is perfect for a 4-5 year-old child.
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary My favorite ‘first Beverly Cleary’ book, in which Ralph the mouse meets a boy–and they bond over their mutual love of toy cars.  Ralph is just the right size to ride the motorcycle…follow Ralph through 3 books.
  • Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken Arabel is a sweet little girl; Mortimer is her horrible and beloved pet raven.   There are 3 books, and they are so funny.   Mortimer destroys everything in sight, but Arabel can’t live without him.
  • The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon One of my favorite books ever, this is a  collection of fairy tales by one of my favorite authors.  Some are too long for younger children, and some are perfect.  Try “The Lady’s Room” first.
  • Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson Moomintroll and his motley collection of friends have adventures in the forest.  There are several strange and wonderful books in this series.
  • All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor A warm and classic story about a Jewish family of 5 sisters in 1912 New York on the Lower East Side.  Very popular with girls, probably not so much for boys, but there ARE boys so give it a try.
  • Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers If you’ve never read these before, you’ll discover that Mary is impatient, cross, vain, and always denies everything, but is nevertheless beloved by her often-naughty charges.  Lots of fun.  (If you have a pre-1981 edition, just edit the chapter about the compass adventure as you read.)
  • Nurse Matilda: The Collected Tales by Christianna Brand Speaking of nanny stories, here’s a very funny one.  You might know this book as the inspiration for the film Nanny McPhee.
  • The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne  Of course.  Just not for the first read-aloud. 🙂

By the time your child is old enough to enjoy the last few books on this list, the possibilities will widen out considerably.  There are so many wonderful books out there to read to your child!  I could go on listing titles for a long time, but my aim here is to provide a list of excellent books to ease into reading aloud a chapter at a time.

All of these books will also come in handy later on as your child learns to read independently.  My Father’s Dragon, Jenny and the Cat Club, and the others may be enjoyed for years to come.  Be sure to have your child read aloud a bit to you every so often!

Jane-Emily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves tojane-emily quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.