Many people who find my homeschool posts might find them by searching for specific content, but I think I have at least several readers who are family and friends and have been following this blog all along. Before I dive into certain topics, I want to give a bit of introduction on my homeschool philosophy and style as a background to my future posts. Each point is going to be brief, but hopefully they will make sense!
I was homeschooled myself and think my mom did an excellent job, so the biggest influence in my homeschool ideas is without a doubt, my mom. Some of the best things she did for me were to give me firm foundations in grammar and phonics, to teach me to write well, to get me to love books and learning, and to teach me how to teach myself. Because of these things, my education has never really ended. I am on a constant quest to learn more, whether it be about photography, philosophy, or psychology, home renovations or home education.
During college I knew I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to homeschool my future children. I got really interested in all sorts of educational philosophies and read a wide variety of books. There are lots of really interesting theories that apply to classroom environments, and often homeschoolers will try to replicate a classroom scope and sequence at home on a smaller scale. My interest was piqued, however, when I found The Well-Trained Mind in the college library. Susan Wise Bauer and her mother wrote the book to describe an ideal classical education in detail.
The classical education movement has been gaining momentum since the 90s. A major source of inspiration has been Dorothy Sayers’ 1947 essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.” There have been private schools developed around these ideas (by people like Douglas Wilson), and even some colleges. Anyway, I’ve read most of the books I can find on the topic and there are several things I really like about the modern classical education style. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can get a little non-traditional with your structure, as long as you still meet all state requirements.
After studying classical education for a long while, I learned about another education theorist from the 1800s and early 1900s named Charlotte Mason. She ran a unique school in England and founded the Parent’s National Education Union (PNEU). I like many of her theories as well and would describe my own philosophy of education as a cross between Classical Education and Charlotte Mason. The lines between the two are fairly blurred in the homeschool world, anyway. :)
What follows are some of the main points I like about Classical Education and Charlotte Mason.
What I Like About Classical Education
The Trivium. Twelve years of education are usually divided 1-6, 7-8, and 8-12. Instead, homeschoolers and classical private schools often divide this into three 4-year segments to correspond with the traditional “Trivium” of subjects almost all students used to study from the middle ages through the late 1800s. Grades 1-4 are the grammar stage. The major emphasis here is laying a good foundation of knowledge and facts in all subject areas. They learn the “grammar” or basics of each subject. In history, for example, students would read lots of biographies and get really familiar with the overall timeline of history. Grades 5-8 are the logic stage. The emphasis in this stage is learning to reason about things and understand connections. Kids of this age group are naturally argumentative and the idea is to put this to use in teaching them how to argue and analyze arguments, how to catch logical fallacies, etc. In history, for example, students would be making more connections and doing things like comparing two revolutions or analyzing primary sources. Grades 9-10 are the rhetoric stage. The emphasis in this stage is on reading the classics, writing, and public speaking. Students move on from analyzing arguments to creating their own arguments or doing original research.
Long Cycles of History. This is not necessarily classical, but most classical educators like doing this. Instead of studying American History each year or switching between American History and World History, students study history in much greater depth by cycling through it three times over 12 years. They study ancient history through the present in the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages, each time a little differently depending on the emphasis of that stage.
Emphasis on Reading the Classics. There is an emphasis on reading the classics–not only classic novels, but also classic non-fiction that has influenced our world like Adam Smith, John Locke, and the Federalist Papers. Some, but not all, classical educators propose reading the classics in the order in which they were written, along with history studies.
Emphasis on Latin. I took three years of Latin in high school and it has continued to benefit me. I could write a whole other post on why Latin is a great first foreign language to study.
What I Like About Charlotte Mason
Education is Not Just Book Learning. Charlotte Mason considers education to be responsible for much, much more than just book learning. She argues that students need to be taught good habits and raised up as kind people with good manners. Education is about the whole character of the child.
Living Books. Charlotte Mason was not a fan of dry textbooks or junky children’s fiction (which she called “Twaddle”). She believes that children should read a wide variety of books, written by people who are enthusiastic about their subjects. A homeschooler using living books might have a basic textbook for history to fill in the gaps, but would use stacks and stacks of biographies and other library books so that students can truly connect with the subject and study it in more depth.
Nature Study. She also considered nature study to be quite important. Just studying about birds, rocks, insects, and flowers in a textbook is not sufficient. Charlotte had her students keep nature notebooks and go birdwatching and draw birds or insects in their notebooks and identify them. In this way, students can actually connect with what they are studying and learn to love and appreciate nature.
Education Ideas I’m Not a Fan Of
Unhelpful, Extra-Complicated, or Detrimental Fads. Ideas like there-is-no-need-to-memorize-math-facts, dates-are-not-important, English-is-not-really-a-phonetic language, etc.
Really Dry Textbooks. I can’t stand textbooks that read like one long, strung-together collection of facts.
An End Goal of Getting an “A.” The real goal is to learn, to be well-educated, and to do one’s best in all endeavors. :)
I know this is quite brief, but I’ll be talking about most of these things in more detail soon. I just wanted to have an introduction handy to link to for new readers.