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 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.

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.

Science and History: Hand in Hand, by Lynne

Teaching Science at Home

 

I am a history nerd. I’ve always enjoyed history classes, historical fiction, and historical documentaries. I never considered myself a science nerd, though. As I’ve said before, The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer changed my life. Of course, I knew that science and history did not happen independently of one another. And, of course, I knew that history influenced and inspired scientific discovery. I also knew that certain events in history often discouraged scientific advancement, such as when Mongol invaders destroyed libraries and universities during their rampages. What I didn’t know until using the four year history and science cycle described in the book was how much sense the history of science would make when studying science in conjunction with history.

“We divide the four years of science into subjects that roughly correspond to the history periods. First graders, who are studying the ancients, learn about those things the ancients could see — animal life, the human body, and plants. . . Second graders collect facts about the earth and sky, a division designed to go along with the medieval-early Renaissance period, when Copernicus and Tycho Brahe observed the heavens.”  (The Well-Trained Mind pp. 157- 158.  2009. W. W. Norton & Co.) The book goes on to describe how third graders learn about chemistry while learning about great chemists of the early modern period, like Robert Boyle. Fourth graders learn about physics and technology while they are studying the history of the modern age and all its exciting scientific and technological developments.

These cycles of history and science together are then repeated again in the logic and rhetoric stages, building on the facts learned during the grammar stage.

Before we started homeschooling, I had been afterschooling my kids in history by having us all listen to The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer in the car as we drove all around.  My younger son was in Kindergarten at the time, and my older son was in first grade — the year students study ancient history. The next year we were homeschooling full time, so I decided to move ahead with history and study the medieval period. Therefore, we didn’t do life sciences the first time around in our four year cycle. We went straight into earth science and astronomy.

I was amazed by the resources my public library had on these topics, so I didn’t even purchase a curriculum for science that year. We read dozens of library books about weather, geology, the solar system, etc. We also did experiments from Janice Van Cleave’s 201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre & Incredible ExperimentsWe made a rain gauge and kept weather journals. We went to the planetarium and learned about the constellations. We searched for different kinds of rocks and labeled them.  We even put together our own models of the solar system. As we learned about the rotation of the planets in science, we were learning in history class about Hans Lippershey inventing the telescope and Galileo being excommunicated for his radical scientific views.  How cool is that?

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In our second year of homeschooling, we were studying chemistry in science and the early modern era in history. Now, you could not have prepared me for the enthusiasm my older son would have for chemistry! I was not a fan of chemistry in high school, so I never imagined that my kids could like it so much.  I purchased this beautiful deck of element cards, and my older son would sit with them, and pour over them, and read information from them to me. We even used them to build a giant periodic table on our sunroom floor. In addition to the Janice van Cleave experiment book, we also used Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry Pre-Level I. This book was a great introduction to basic concepts in Chemistry, and my kids really liked how atoms were drawn with arms to show how they linked to other atoms to form molecules. The atoms were drawn with the same number of arms as they had available spaces in their outer electron shell. Such an easy way for elementary kids to understand the concept of how atoms could join with other atoms! There were numerous advancements in science during the early modern period, and it was interesting to see how the advancements in science instigated changes in world politics and history. The study of chemistry and physical properties of matter were at the heart of these advancements.

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Our third year of homeschooling corresponded to the fourth year of the history/science cycle- the Modern Age. This year, we used Real Science for Kids Physics Level I.  We also used the corresponding lab book.  I liked how the lab book had students conduct their experiments by using the scientific method. We learned about electricity and simple machines. The kids took a class at the Metroparks about how light and sound waves work.  We learned that there was such a thing as nuclear physics. We had interesting conversations about the historical implications of nuclear physics, such as the devastation caused by atom bombs, and (an event my kids remember) the damage caused by earthquakes to the nuclear reactors in Japan. We also had some laughs when a physics discussion would be prompted by a family TV night watching The Big Bang Theory.

This year, we are in the Logic Stage and have gone back to the first year of our cycle. We are studying Biology, using Pandia Press R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2. This is a fascinating book, with lots of hands on experiments and many chances to look at things under a microscope. We are also taking a second look at ancient history.  So much was happening in life sciences during the ancient times.  Egyptians were mummifying bodies, Hippocrates was busy establishing the study of medicine in Greece, and people in India were busy working on a classification system.

Obviously, during all periods of history, all kinds of science was happening in all sorts of areas. The study of chemistry wasn’t limited to the early modern period any more than astronomy was limited to medieval times. People have studied the world around them since the dawn of time. You can’t have biology or physics without chemistry. It’s all interconnected. So, even though this four year cycle breaks down the different disciplines of science to correspond with different eras in history, it doesn’t limit us to these four designations. If you are studying modern times, you are going to learn about the newest discoveries of the latest satellite or Mars Rover, right along with your physics lessons. The four year cycle just provides a consistent backbone to pursue historical AND scientific scholarship simultaneously. When my kids had to temporarily go back to public school this fall, giving up this four year cycle was, honestly, the biggest regret I had concerning their academics.  I am relieved we get to continue on this path, and so are the kids.

Lynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief lynnestint 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.