Jul 302012


Today is the kick-off for the Back to Homeschool Blog Hop. Today’s topic is Homeschool Methods.

This is our 10th year of “officially” homeschooling. By that, I mean my oldest started kindergarten 9 years ago. But we had made a decision to homeschool well before that. Always wanting to be prepared, I started researching homeschool methods when my oldest was about 2. And when I research things, I tend to get a little, um, obsessed.

So I had lots of ideas about how to homeschool and what curriculum to use well before I could actually use it. Unfortunately I have learned that it often isn’t beneficial to plan that far ahead. When you’ve never homeschooled, you can’t really know what you’re going to like until you’ve tried it. And you don’t know how your children are going to learn best either.

In those early years, I was leaning heavy towards a popular curriculum that focused on reading real books. Then I discovered classical education, and my husband and I were very drawn to the ideas and precepts behind that educational model.

Looking back on our early years and reflecting on where we are now, I can’t say that our school is really classical. Yes, we’ve taught Latin to our oldest children, but we didn’t do all the memorizing of facts in the early years that is important in the grammar stage*.

*It is important to recognize that the definition of classical education is different depending on whom you ask. I wrote this description of the different views of classical education several years ago.

With 5 children from 19 months to 14 years old, I have learned that I have to be flexible. I was privileged to interview Dr. Mary Hood on Relaxed Homeschooling, and I discovered that I was unknowingly incorporating many of the ideas of relaxed homeschooling into our home. We are definitely not completely relaxed because there are some subjects that I require and are scheduled. However, especially with the younger children, I’ve let some of the official teaching go and let learning occur more naturally.

So I call our homeschool relaxed classical. It’s not the classical part that’s relaxed (you can’t really learn Latin without dedicated study), but I do try to allow plenty of time for the children to explore their own interests. David, my oldest, has taught himself how to edit videos and create computer games. Anna, my oldest daughter, spends a lot of time on crafts. But she also reads a lot of historical fiction on her own time. William, my middle son, reads the Apologia Elementary Science books on his own. He also memorized the Presidents of the U.S. on his own.

Sometimes I start to feel guilty about all the things that I haven’t done. Then I’m reminded that the kids are learning all the time. Some of it is formal. Some is not. I’ve always wanted to go on intentional nature walks and keep journals. (I do have some Charlotte Mason tendencies). However this is not something I’ve successfully implemented. But we do study nature.

I was able to use all my acquired knowledge on homeschool methods a few years ago when I was asked to write several homeschool articles. This article gives a good overview of all the different types of homeschool methods.

So what about you? How do you describe your homeschool?

Thanks for visiting Sunrise to Sunset. While you’re here, please follow my blog. (I lost a lot of followers when Google Friend Connect was limited to Blogger blogs!) After that, please visit some of these other great blogs who are participating in the Back to Homeschool Blog Hop.

Sep 282011

It’s my turn on the Schoolhouse Birthday Blog Hop again. Hopefully you visited last week when I hosted Malia Russell.

Today I’m pleased to have Amy Barr of Lukeion.org with me. Amy will be writing monthly in The Old Schoolhouse® magazine on Classical Homeschooling topics. Being a somewhat classical homeschooler, I was pleased to be selected to interview Amy. I was not familiar with the Lukeion Project, but have now visited the website and it looks like a fantastic program. They offer live, on-line, high school level classes in Latin, Greek , Classical Literature, and more! I’m going to be checking into these for my son for next year.

Kristen: How did you become interested in Classical Education?

Amy: When I was 10 I saw a magazine article about a city that was wiped out during the worst mega-disaster in human history: It was about Pompeii, a Roman city of 20,000 annihilated by a volcano in AD 79. I was hooked!  I started an archaeological excavation in our back yard. When Pompeii was re-discovered in 1749 it caught the imagination of the world, prompting the neo-Classical movement just when our founders were deciding how to build a new nation.  Most people don’t know Thomas Jefferson picked columns instead of cathedrals because of Pompeii. I can relate.

Once I started college I began to work abroad as a Classical Archaeologist.  I spent a decade of summers living in Jordan, Greece and Turkey doing what I loved best. While studying ancient history, archaeology, art, architecture, Greek and Latin, I gained valuable college teaching experience. My husband, Regan, followed a similar path but started his journey with a couple of degrees in New Testament.

I knew I would teach my children at home well before I had a family. I worked at my college library in a special collection for education majors where I organized the tools of the teaching trade.  I wasn’t impressed with the racks of diagnostic tests aimed to calculate intellect rather than nurture it. Future teachers were learning how to give tests, not how to teach children. Once I started teaching at the college level it was clear that most of the students could not read carefully, write effectively, reason clearly, or think independently. My husband and I agreed:  we could do a better job with our own children.

Classical education divides the way a child learns into three stages (the trivium or “three roads”) based on how the child’s brain works during development: grammar, logic, rhetoric. These stages roughly correspond to elementary, middle, and high school. Educators who keep these stages in mind appreciate why the same logic-based task will aggravate an 8 year-old but amuse a 14 year-old.  Language skills are essential to Classical education as learners are given the tools and time to read great literature while they incorporate math, science, philosophy, art, history, travel along with Greek and Latin. What’s not to like?  Regardless of our children’s path, their world is well-rounded.

Kristen: Do you think that the classical education model is good for every student? Why or why not?

Amy: No one model of education when strictly applied will work for everyone. We home educators must evaluate, adapt, and refine what and how we teach the unique learners that God gave us.  Classical education, however, is a broad and forgiving approach that will fill the needs of most families.

The tools that I’ve found most useful in this approach came naturally as a result of my own interests. I’ve modeled a love of learning and as a result my kids are voracious readers and their vocabulary and language skills are excellent. My husband and I are professional Latin and Greek teachers so a systematic study of Latin and Greek are a natural part of their education. My husband and I worked at the site of Troy as archaeologists and I also teach mythology professionally so my children have a remarkable understanding of the Iliad, Odyssey, and other foundational Classical literature.  Just by being around us, our kids have a first-rate view of the whole cultural setting of ancient Greece and Rome.  They even take yearly family trips with The Lukeion Project to the Mediterranean. For us, Classical education is a life-style more than an educational methodology.  I know there aren’t many people that have all of that available. A Classical focus can be adapted for your family using your talents and skills.

Kristen: Is it easier to begin studying Greek or Latin first? Should students study both languages at the same time? At what age do you recommend beginning Greek and/or Latin studies?

Amy: Since I am a full-time advanced Latin teacher while my husband teaches Greek at the same level, we get this question a lot.  Each language affords its own advantages, and they help each other out when learned together. Some are a bit intimidated by the Greek alphabet, while others delight in being able to write (and type!) in a 3000 year-old language. Latin is a more conventional and may seem less threatening. Start with the language that interests your learner more.  If you want your child to take both, wait until he has had at least a year or two of one before starting the next.

In the elementary ages, children can learn a lot of Greek and Latin vocabulary, play with short translations, and master the Greek alphabet. Keep these early years fun! Mix a little language learning with plenty of hands-on history craft projects, games, travel and museum visits.  Once a learner starts to think more logically (roughly 12 to 15) he is ready to begin a systematic study of Latin or Greek. Wait for your learner to be intellectually ready and these languages will be a pleasure instead of a pain.

Thank you so much for your insight Amy. I’m looking forward to reading your contributions to The Old Schoolhouse®.



Jun 172010

When I saw that this week The Homeschool Village was asking “What book has encouraged/supported you in your homeschooling adventure??”, the book that immediately came to mind was The Well-Trained Mind.(Yes, I see the pun and decided to keep it.)

When I first started researching homeschooling, I found a curriculum that I fell in love with. It focused on reading wonderful books, and that greatly appealed to me. I joined a Yahoo group for preschoolers and started using the preschool curriculum. But it was on that group that I first heard of The Well Trained Mind. Intrigued by the title, I started reading reviews. Pretty soon I realized that I was going to have to read the book, so I bought it. (You really don’t have to twist my arm too much to buy a book.) I read the book from cover to cover. My husband read the book from cover to cover. After reading it, we both knew that this was the kind of education we had missed. It was the kind of education we would like for our children.

So our long-term plans shifted. We began to think in terms of the stages of learning. We started researching Latin curricula. We decided to study history chronologically.

This all happened over 7 years ago. Have we followed The Well-Trained Mind completely? No. If Susan Wise Bauer were to visit my home, would she recognize any of her ideas here? Probably not. (Though she would find all 4 volumes of Story of the World and First Language Lessons!) I’ve done more research. I’ve branched out and found some different ways of doing some things. I haven’t emphasized some of the things that I should have to be truly “classical”.  Even so, the single most influential homeschooling book for our home has been The Well-Trained Mind. As a matter of fact, I want to purchase the 3rd edition and reread it now that I have a children in the logic stage. I could use the inspiration!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something, it will bring me closer to purchasing a new copy of The Well-Trained Mind.

Apr 192009

It’s that time of year again. No, not spring cleaning. (although I’m working on that too!) It’s the time of year where we’re winding down and I’m evaluating. What did we learn this year? What has worked well? What didn’t work? What do we need to do better next year?

One of the things on my mind a lot lately is classical education. I was introduced to classical education when my oldest was in preschool. My husband and I were both very inspired by the research we did on classical education, and planned to implement the classical model in our homeschool.

So what is classical education exactly? That is somwhat dependent on whom you ask because there is a tremendous amount of variation among classical educators. However, there are two basic schools of thought in classical education.

On one end of the spectrum are what are sometimes called the neo-classicists. The essay by Dorothy Sayers entitled The Lost Tools of Learning details three stages of learning. These three stages she has called the poll-parrot, the dialectic, and the rhetoric stages.   Sayers goes on to suggest that instruction during these stages should match the strenghths of the children. In The Well-Trained Mind, authors Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise expounded on Sayer’s original essay by detailing educational methods that capitalize on these natural stages in students. In this book, these respective stages are re-named as the grammar stage, the logic stage, and the rhetoric stage.

The grammar stage is the first stage and ranges from first through around fifth, sixth, or seventh grades depending on the child. This stage is characterized by the child’s ability to memorize facts and their thirst for knowledge about many different things. The student should not be performing analysis on these facts at this point, but rather acquiring knowledge that will be used as a foundation in further studies. An excellent summary of the grammar stage written by Christine Miller can be found at Classical Christian Homeschool.

The grammar stage is followed by the logic or dialectic stage. This stage typically begins around the middle school years. You can recognize when a student is beginning to enter this stage by the questioning of the student. The logic stage is when the student begins to constantly ask "Why?". Students at this stage exhibit the desire and the ability to understand how things are interrelated, and an increased capacity for logical thought.  Many students will exhibit some of these aspects of logical thought at an early age, but parents must be careful not to push them out of the grammar stage too soon.  A more thorough exposition of the logic stage can be found here at Classical Christian Homeschool.

The third stage is the rhetoric stage. This stage of learning usually coincides with the high school years.This usage of the term rhetoric should not be confused with the common usage of political rhetoric.   The rhetoric stage is characterized by the student learning to effectively communicate his own thoughts and ideas. These  thoughts and conclusions are drawn from the study of great literature and philosophers of the ages.

These three stages proceed in a logical fashion with each stage building on the other.  Students will be able to reason more effectively if they have learned lots of facts and correct useage of grammar in their elementary years (grammar stage).  In turn, students will be able to more effectively communicate in the rhetoric phase if they are able to quickly retrieve the correct facts, and then assemble those facts together in a logical manner. 

The neo-classicists place great value in the study of history, literature, and language. The Well-Trained Mind suggests that history should be taught chronologically in a repeating 4 year rotation. History is divided into 4 periods represented approximately by Ancient History, Middle Ages and Reformation, Colonial Times through Victorian Ages, and Modern (20th Century) History. Ideally these topics would be taught in 1st-4th grades, then repeated in 5th-8th grades, and again in the 9th-12th grades. There are many curriculum providers that have modeled their programs after this design.

Another key portion of classical education is the study of at least one classical language, usually Latin, although some people add or substitute the study of Greek or Hebrew. Many classical educators begin Latin instruction very early, in the grammar stage, because that is a good time to memorize all the various declensions, conjugations, and vocabulary required in learning Latin. There are many benefits to the study of Latin. It greatly increases English vocabulary because so much of English is derived from Latin. Also Latin is a language that requires rigorous thought and thus is good training for the mind. An excellent argument by Cheryl Lowe of Memoria Press that more thoroughly expounds the benefits of Latin study can be found at the Memoria Press website.

The study of Latin and/or other classical languages is the single biggest point in common between the neo-classical and the traditional classical schools of thought. In addition the study of logic is included by both. Another commonality is the study of the Great Books, although there is some disagreement about what is included in the list of Great Books.

In my opinion, the greatest difference between the two models is their focus. Where the neo-classicist focuses more on method in education, the traditional classicist’s focus is on content. A traditional classicist also values the study of history, but the focus is on Western History with a strong emphasis on the Greeks and Romans. The 4-year history rotation is absent from the traditional classical classroom. The use of the terms grammar, logic, and rhetoric do not apply so much to developmental stages to the traditional classical educator, but are titles of disciplines to be studied. The stages are naturally to be followed in any study independent of the age of the student. For example, a student who is in the "logic stage" according to the neo-classical model, but is just beginning to study Latin, must still begin with the grammar stage of learning the Latin language.

So what have I gleaned from my reflection on the definitions of classical education? Do I still agree with this philosophy? How am I doing in implementing these ideas in our home?

After reviewing the principals of classical education I must give a resounding "yes", that it is still the direction I want our homeschool to take. I still lean more strongly toward the neo-classical side of the spectrum. I am particularly enamored with the 4-year history rotation. 

How are we doing in practice? On the positive side, we are completing a year of studying the ancients in history. This is the second time through this time period for my oldest child. We will be continuing on in our chronological history study next year. My two older children are studying Latin and Greek which is crucial to a classical education.

The place where I have failed the greatest is in memory work. I have not done a good job implementing memory work in all of our subjects and I have not used sufficient drill in our Latin, Greek, and math courses. Unfortunately, I’m beginning to see some of the consequences of that now. My older son is having problems translating in Latin because he doesn’t know his vocabulary and word endings as well as he should. Both of my older students need work in math computation speed. (I got a huge reminder of that last week when I administered their standardized tests.)

What am I changing for next year? I hope to implement memory work in all our subjects. Also, my oldest is soon entering the logic phase, so he will be adding logic to his studies soon. I want to add more drill for Latin and Greek so that they will better retain what they have learned. In addition, I plan to add more drill in our math program. I think I’d better get to planning!