I knew I wanted to homeschool my kids from the time they were tiny. In 2005, I picked up a copy of the first edition of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind, and I was instantly hooked on the idea of classical education. That’s not to say we’ve always followed her methods – there was a two-year foray into the Charlotte Mason philosophy – but for the most part we’re unabashed classical homeschoolers.
What’s the difference between my homeschool and a typical public school? No social studies, for one. Not that the idea of social studies isn’t a good one, but I feel strongly that history is a necessary subject for every single person. As Ken Burns famously said, “History isn’t a subject. It’s the subject.”
Anyone who has studied history in a systematic, in depth way, can tell you why ISIS has risen in the middle east, the reasons for the poor state of the Mexican economy and the root of the American governmental system (hint – we’re not a democracy). History is the story of people, how they interact with one another and their environment. To understand history is to understand people and to learn from their mistakes. Most of us owe a great deal more to old King John and Socrates than we know. So my kids study history, starting with the ancients and progressing, in a four-year cycle, to modern times. Then they start again, probing, seeking, questioning their way through middle school.; digging deeper into subjects they’ve already encountered to find connections.
Secondly, language arts takes precedence over all else. We live in an age when STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or STEAM (add art for good measure) are all the rage. These are great programs, don’t misunderstand me, and I have taken advantage of several programs to help my kids understand coding, robotics and engineering, but anyone with high-level reading and writing skills can go on to learn engineering. A high-school student who can code and build robots but can’t communicate effectively has essentially been given a beautiful gift to unwrap, and then had his hands tied.
“For we let our young men and women go out unarmed in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them to read, we have left hem at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do no know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects.” – Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”.
Reading, writing, grammar and spelling form the bulk of our instruction. We read and write about history and science, we memorize grammar and spelling rules (more on the importance of memorization later) and we write (or tell, in the younger grades) about everything.
Science is handled in much the same way as history. We take science subject by subject, slowly moving through biology, earth science, astronomy, chemistry and physics in a systematic way, over four years. And then, as with history, we start again, learning more, doing more, exploring more deeply. Biographies of scientists and hands-on experiments round out our lessons.
Math is also given an important place. They work through their curriculum, supplemented with flash cards, memory work, speed drills and living math books. (Not making sense? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that).
Math, language, history, science. The building blocks of education, laid out clearly and systematically, nothing left out, nothing piecemeal. A compete, rigorous education, like a cake. A thick, dense, chocolate cake. And then, frosting!
Poetry, artist study, composer study, Latin, logic, Shakespeare, fairy tales, great books read aloud, foreign languages, music, art, sports, clubs, hobbies, passions. All these have been incorporated into our days at some point to enhance their education.
So how do we do it? If it sounds difficult and intense – it is. In the last few years more than ever as we’re balancing multiple grades. This is one reason my 8th grader now attends a classical charter school. But it’s possible to do it, and do it well. Over the course of this series I’ll lay out what we do and how we do it, as well as reviewing different materials and curricula we’ve used.
Let’s start with history!
A look at math.
And the writing and language arts post is up!
More coming soon! You can subscribe so you don’t miss out on more titillating curriculum reviews.
Are you a classical homeschooler? I’d love to hear from you!