The other day I spoke about a few homeschool methods that I had researched that didn’t work so well for our family. Parts of them worked, but as a whole, they were too overwhelming. Dealing with morning sickness and the like during my first year of homeschooling wasn’t my idea of a good time, but when you feel like the Lord is telling you to do something, you do it, regardless of whether or not you think the timing sucks.
So during my first year as a “teacher” I kept it pretty minimal. I didn’t bother with things like art or music. I was lucky if I could get off the couch, so my priorities were refining their reading skills (or in Emma’s case, teach her to read) and math. I figured that the most important things that they could learn was how to read, to love reading and keep up on their math (you know, because life involves math, no way around it.) If I had time or energy, I’d focus on history or science. I knew that anything I missed in history, science or the other subjects I could easily make up in their later years when I’m not living with my head in the toilet or trying to pack for a move across the country.
So as we drew closer to the end of the school year I started to panic a little bit. As we neared our school break (which was scheduled for around Jack’s birth), I found myself wondering how I was going to attack the additional subjects. I still felt that a love of reading was the key and I had a good idea of what I wanted to accomplish, but I didn’t exactly know how to do it. I knew the destination, I just didn’t have a map.
Enter “The Well Trained Mind”
It is written my a mother/daughter team and just what I needed.
This book is all of my desires and hopes for the education of my children combined with the unexplainable feelings I had on how to do it. It’s as if a nurturing mother married a brilliant educator and this book is their offspring.
As I turned the pages, I read exactly what I had been feeling like we needed. A perfect marriage between structured and unstructured. I can teach them things that I believe are age appropriate without overwhelming them. And also what not to waste my time on (like elaborate preschool stuff, which I don’t have time for anyway). I was also validated in my expectations of my children.
For example if my five year old balks when I sit down to teach her phonics, it’s because she would rather have ME read to her since that’s what I’ve have been doing all of her life. Why should she take the time to learn to read when she would rather play with her animals? It’s because she is being lazy, not because she isn’t ready. I know this because this same five year old has, in the past, felt the same way about going to the bathroom. Why bother? It’s just easier to sit here and make me shampoo the carpet later.
BUT on the same note, many five year olds aren’t ready for writing, so if she struggles with that, I don’t push it. She’ll get it when she’s ready.
I read things like “Language Arts are the cornerstone of classical education, the student will spend more time on reading and writing than on any other task.” Even the other subjects are centered around reading and writing. Read about history, then write about it. Read about the scriptures, then write about it. Read about horses, then write about them. We throw in a handful of coloring pages and glue projects, but for the most part, it’s all about reading and writing.
I only expect a few sentences from my second grader. But sometimes she will surprise me with a fully illustrated novel (three pages of dialogue front and back). Even Emma will write a little blurb about a picture she draws, I have her translate and I write it at the bottom or back of the page so we can look at it later, but she gives a 110%.
In this book I also read gems such as “History isn’t a subject, it is THE subject”. Art, music etc are all covered while you are learning history. Even science; we alternate between history and science as our subject of the day, but the branch of science will correspond with the years you are studying in history. We are studying Ancient History this year, so we also study things that they would have seen in ancient history, namely plants, animals and human anatomy. Next year we’ll be learning about the earth and sky to correspond with the medieval/early renaissance period. After that it will be basic chemistry going hand in hand with late renaissance/early modern period, then physics with the most recent history. I also follow this with the scriptures. I realize it’s all ancient, but I also do the scriptures in chronological order. Ancient History = Old Testament.
It sounds pretty rigid, but it’s actually not. Depending on how you go about it. This is where another of TJED’s fundamentals come into play. Oliver Demille says “Classics, not textbooks”. Susan and Jesse say:
The only books more boring than basic history textbooks are standard science textbooks. And on a whole, science textbooks lack coherence… They cover everything from rain forests to diet and nutrition in no particular order… leap[ing] from subject to subject in six-weeks chunks. It takes time for a child to develop interest in a new subject, to understand it’s boundaries and it’s purposes, and to see what new fields of exploration it opens up… [textbooks] move on to the next unit just as this is beginning to take place.
Now lest you think that I am standing over my children with a red pen and a whip, I assure you that while I do expect a lot from them, they enjoy it. I believe children like to be stretched and challenged. The trick is to do it with love and not too quickly or too hard. Just a little bit at a time.
You can crush a piece of coal with too much pressure, but if it’s done right and if you give it enough time you will get a diamond.
Next time “Forget the ‘theories and methods’, what does it looks like?”