January 24, 2007

Q and A: Homeschool Methods

Hi Tenniel,

Thanks for opening up your blog for questions. I was home-schooled from 1st to 8th grade and loved it, and I plan to homeschool my daughter (and other future children) who is now 18 months. I enjoy reading about your blend of CM and classical education approaches; those are the two that appeal to me the most. My question is: how do those two philosophies impact your curriculum and daily activities with your children. How do you establish good CM and Classical patterns with young children? What books to you recommend on these philosophies?

Ok, I guess it was more than one question! Thanks for your input.


Hi Lindsay thanks for your question and glad to hear you liked homeschooling and want to do it yourself. Good luck in your journey.

It is true that the two philosophies that most closely match our schooling style are Classical Education and Charlotte Mason's approach. I would not say we are identical to either style but rather have found meaningful and useful approaches to education from both. We have taken what we liked and left the rest behind. A family who follows closely one method may not consider our approach to be the same because it is not.

Your question is straightforward and should be easy to answer but I am not quite sure how to approach it so be patient with me and hopefully in the end it will all make sense.

Both Serona and I believe in the end goals of both approaches and wanted to blend the best of both parts. There were downsides to both approaches as well and I was not sure how well they would blend or if we were taking on too much to try to do both. In the end so far we feel like we have done a nice job blending them.

Classical education is based off the trivium. There are many articles and books written on the subject. Here is a brief summary that I found online:

On the first level, which we call the Grammar level, the child learns the basic facts and the fundamental rules. In English, this would include phonics, vocabulary, and spelling rules. In mathematics, the number system, math facts, and measurements. In history, this would include such things as the story part of history, including names, places, and dates.

On the second level, which we call the Logic level, the child learns to comprehend the way these facts fit together. In English, this would include the parts of speech and the construction of sentences. In mathematics, the proofs of algebra or geometry. In history, the reasons for wars, migrations, or inventions.

On the third level, which we call the Rhetoric level, the child learns to express and practice what he has learned. Essays, compositions, and public speaking are applications of English study. Surveying, accounting, and engineering are all applications of mathematical study. Developing views in politics, economics, religion, or science are applications of historical study.

I really believe that a child learns this way and understand the value of approaching an overall education for an individual this way. I like the end result and how this pedagogical approach has lasted throughout the years even before we knew that is what it was. Having studied philosophy, logic and rhetoric I have special appreciation for this style. Classical education has influenced our schooling in providing the overall goals and arc for our education style. We also typically choose classical styled texts and curriculums.

The absolute best reference IMHO for this is The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. It can be overwhelming and intimidating but it is an excellent resource and thoroughly explains the approach, the reasons for it and year by year and overall stage by stage approaches. They give wonderful curriculum ideas as well. This is one of two books that most influenced our homeschooling approaches. They also have a useful website with fun message boards.

What nearly turned me from the WTM and Classical Education was the intensity of their schedule and expectations of a young child. While they encourage reading it was not a love of reading I felt. They also are so focused on the arts and math that I felt the arts get overlooked and ignored more. I was concerned we would not be developing "whole people". That is where Charlotte Mason comes in.

While the original CM series is wonderful the book that most influenced me and turned me to her was The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola. Even the pictures in this book express a sense of what I want for my family and my children's lives and education. Charlotte Mason developed whole people. Her concept of whole books is one I had already come to on my own from the time they were little so she was speaking to my heart.

The parts of Charlotte Mason that we have adopted are the use of whole books and living history, the appreciation for nature and use of nature journals, the love and appreciation for the finer arts music composer and picture study, poetry for young children, and short lessons with afternoons free.

Where Classical Education sets the overall arc and approach to our families education Charlotte Mason sets the tone, timing and flow of our education and whole person development. Charlotte Mason reminds me to slow down, breath and enjoy and Classical reminds me to be serious and challenging and assume the children can do what is set before them. Charlotte Mason reminds me of the beauty I want my children to appreciate and develop and Classical reminds me of the knowledge and wisdom I want them to obtain. Those are big generalizations and one does not lack the other but rather chose to emphasize different aspects more.

So how does it look in our home at the young grades? We are only in the grammar stage here so far. We focus on language arts, memorizing facts of grammar, spelling and phonics, we read a lot, we study the story arc of history and supplement with whole books on the topics, we memorize basic math facts and keep nature journals, we listen to classical composers and look at works of art from great artists. We do NOT do all of these things every day. We stick to short lessons and try to be done before lunch (other than reading and handiwork or craft projects).

I try to remember that we are developing whole people and what the end result is. Still we try not to sacrifice the knowledge we want to pour into them now. Right now I really believe Rhiannon and Ciaran are like sponges happy to soak it all up and seem to have an endless appetite for knowledge they want and at least a quick memorization of that which they are not as interested in.

I look at education now as hanging signposts with labels and just a bit of information so when they hear it again in a few years they can find that post in their brain and pile the new information on top of what they already know instead of starting from scratch again. But that is my interpretation of both philosophies and what we have chosen to take from each. Everyone will read them different and different aspects will resonate with them.

In the end remember you need to find the approach that works best for your family. For ours a blending of these two styles we really like works wonderful so far. But we blend it in a way that others may not. We have really just found what works for us and done it. It was hard for me to write this because we did not really think about how we were going to do this, we just researched and started and found out what worked for us. Then one day I realized it really is a blend of these two styles. The two books I reread each summer are the Well Trained Mind and the Charlotte Mason Companion to refresh me and give me vision again for the new year.

The patterns development just came for us. The only real pattern we started with was reading. We go to the library weekly if not more. I leave with more books than I think I can carry in my big bag each time. But even when they were little 3 and 4 those books included almost as many easy non-fiction as storybooks. This started a habit of reading "whole books" for us as easy non-fiction readers are typically about one subject. Each time we read the kids could pick out of a selected group of books which usually meant atleast one non-fiction book was being read each time. Soon they saw them the same and would pick them for themselves. This also established a love of reading and a natural value of books.

The classical patterns I guess just come the same any school ones do - just by doing them regularly and with consistency. We kept the lessons short - 5 minutes in the beginning to up to 30 minutes now for certain things like math. Picture studies I just bought a big calendar and left it open to a picture and let them look when they wanted then we started talking about it (which reminds me I have not done this for awhile and should again) classical music we listened to at meal time or craft time or quiet time with consistency. Not sure how else to answer the patterns question.

Hope that helps in some way.

1 comment:

  1. Lindsay2:47 PM


    Thank you SO MUCH for your careful answer to my question. (I apoligize to taking so long to respond; I was out of town for a wedding all last week.) Your grasp of each philosophy exactly echoes mine. I have read (skimmed) "A Well-Trained Mind," and while I loved the approach, I was completely intimidated by the amount of work they outline (although they claim that nobody does that much...). I have also read "The CM Companion" and parts of CM's original works. I loved parts of that as well, but I didn't know if it expected "enough" of a child. Your answer helped me understand my own feelings about the two approaches so much better. In wanting to find "the best," I was second-guessing myself and my desires. When I found your blog and realized you combined my two favorite philosophies, I knew that I had to find out how you did it. Thank you!!! You have truly calmed my heart when it comes to teaching my daughter.

    One more question (ok, I will probably be peppering you with questions for a long time, but only one more today): Do you have your children do narrations after you have read to them?