Classical Education With a Twist

I have always been attracted to classical education.  I think it started when I was first learning about how my public education was really inadequate.  I was friends with a family that decided that the local schools (which I attended) were not sufficient, and so they researched and set up a charter school that followed the Core Knowledge Sequence.  The sequence introduced me to the idea of learning a comprehensive, interdisciplinary world and US history, classical literature, and mostly just the idea that there are standards of education floating out in the world somewhere that were higher and better than anything that I had experienced in every subject.  Core Knowledge brought the idea that there is a shared cultural literacy that our civilization is built on, and that this education is the key to equality and success in our society.

Fast forward several years.  I now had married into the family that set up the charter school and I had two kids.  I planned on enrolling my kids in a school with the CK sequence or finding some sort of supplementation when I visited my aunt in Washington, D.C.  She was homeschooling her large family, in spite of the schools around that were using the core knowledge sequence.  I was confused as to why she would go through all that work when she actually lived in a district that had “the best” plan available.  I said something that indicated what I was thinking, and her reply was, “I homeschool because I have a curriculum I like better.”

I tucked that thought in the back of my mind and held onto it.  I started researching homeschooling forums and sites and realized that there are several educational philosophies in the world and that homeschooling gave you the freedom to do what you loved from any of them.  I love that you can totally customize each child’s educational experience.

So here are some of the additional sources that have informed my homeschooling choices:

Charlotte Mason  I really love her whole approach to education.  I have tried to incorporate character education, nature studies/journaling, living books, and feasting on a wide and varied educational banquet.  I regularly refresh myself on her philosophy and try to bring it into my personal curriculum choices.  I do not follow everything she recommends to the letter, but I let her philosophy raise the way I bring in other ideas to a higher level. For example, I don’t use exclusively living books.  I think encyclopedias and textbooks have value (and my kids LOVE reading them), and should be incorporated so that children can later go to college and not be completely stymied by all the texts they will wade through in college.  I also teach grammar earlier.  These are just two examples, but I feel like it is really freeing to take what you love and leave what you don’t.

The Well-Trained Mind  I love the way this book breaks down education throughout the entirety of a child’s time at home.  I regularly reference this text to see what kind of subjects are recommended and when to add them into my child’s life.  I use this source very loosely.  I use it as a yardstick to make sure I am meeting or exceeding the goals.  I feel like the suggestions are too incremental and time-consuming.  If I were to follow this exactly, we wouldn’t be able to feast on as many subjects.

Memoria Press  I use the accelerated curriculum guide as another yardstick to measure educational progress.  I also buy some of their subject material, but I don’t use them exclusively, and frequently I don’t follow the things I do buy exhaustively.

Homeschool Buyers Co-op  I regularly peruse the subject offerings here because I have found new subject areas that were not suggested in any of my previous sources.  For example, I saw several technology classes that were not even on my radar, and so I started looking into programming and computer science courses.  It was then that I realized that if I didn’t change course drastically, I was in danger of only producing classics majors (and while I love the subject material, it doesn’t really do much in the way of supporting a family).  I decided to ramp up my STEM curriculum choices because of the offerings on this site.

These are the sites that are my jumping off point for developing my curriculum outline.  I am always on the lookout for other sources and ideas as well.  I have decided that there is no one right approach, and no source has all of the answers.  I find that by keeping an open mind, our educational journey has led us to exciting places.  We are currently enjoying unit studies with a fun co-op in our area.  I never subscribed to unit studies, but in a group setting it has been really fun.  We have been able to take a morning off our normal track and go explore with a large group of other kids.  Unit studies provide a great group activity, and work well with field trips and other local opportunities.  This has been a departure from every philosophy that I have ever used, but we have really enjoyed ourselves.

So when I am asked what homeschool philosophy I subscribe to, I just say “classical education with a twist” because we use it as our backbone, but we depart regularly.  Good luck finding your personal educational style, and have fun twisting it around to make it your own.

Etiquette

Recently, I tried to extoll the virtues of homeschooling to a friend who doesn’t homeschool.  It really didn’t go down the way I wanted.  The whole experience led me to realize that I wanted a crash course in Etiquette.  I need to be able to converse about things that others don’t agree with, and I want everyone to leave happy.  I had been sitting on the fence about buying an Etiquette curriculum that I had seen on the Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op, but it had been a long time, and it seemed like the deal was never coming back, and after this little lapse in social grace, I decided to take the plunge.
I was feeling like we needed a lot of etiquette education so I bought the whole program with levels 1-3.  I also got the online course.  (I really dive into things sometimes…)
I have decided that I love it.  My kids are so much better behaved and I have been working my way through the two higher levels.
Here is why I give it a rave review.First, the lessons are actually really helpful and easy to implement.  After a few lessons my kids were impressing everyone with their manners.  We had a playdate and they all introduced themselves with eye contact, firm handshakes and clear voices.  (We had practiced.)  My 2-year-old, when asked how she was doing, replied, “I am good.  Thanks for asking.”  She frequently asks, “How are you doing?” to adults at church, and everyone dotes on her.  I have found that my manners are improving and that I look at etiquette differently.
My 9-year-old is taking the online course and feels like the lessons are helping her.  She stands up and comes over when people come in or leave our home, and she feels good that she can make people feel like they matter.And that is what I really like about this program—the focus that Etiquette is all about making other people feel like they are important & comfortable.  That is a great thing to teach our kids, and frankly, it hasn’t hurt my behavior at all either.
When I first looked at the program, I thought it looked a little juvenile for my tastes.  The CD, called the Etiquette Jukebox, was a major turnoff for me, but we actually like most of the songs.  They are really well done, and when I need to remind my kids about a principle, I can just break out with one of the Etiquette songs.  I have kids 9 and under and they all enjoy listening to the CD occasionally in the car. (Once or twice a week.)
I thought the dinner placemats in the kit wouldn’t really be all that helpful, but the kids love them, and they do thank me even when they don’t like the food that I cook because “We Tell the Cook Thank You,” is written on the mat.  I love the way it isn’t a command but just a reminder.  My daughter pointed out that she doesn’t feel annoyed with the program because it only gently reminds and never forces.
It has helped me be a better parent because I am more aware of helping my children feel comfortable even as I stand my ground.  The whole take away is that you have more self-respect when you think about making others feel important and valued.
My kids beg to have etiquette lessons and play the etiquette games.  My oldest enjoys both Level 1 and Level 2 and does both.  I have learned from all three levels, so I definitely think it is worth the investment.

How I (Let Computers) Teach Reading

My goal with my preschoolers is to have them reading well by the time they enter kindergarten. I want my children to be able to work independently for small stretches. There are coloring pages kids can do, but I prefer for “busy work” to be valuable, so coloring has to have some purpose. Otherwise, I would rather have my children playing or running around. When I start school, I jump in and I need the student to be able to read math workbooks and other texts even if I am busy with a younger sibling or cleaning.

I also feel that if your child can read well above grade level when their peers in school are still learning their ABC’s, you feel pretty confident about homeschooling and can fend off the constant questions from well-meaning relatives and friends by showing them that you are competent and capable at teaching your own child.

Side note: I would still want to teach my child how to read if I wasn’t going to homeschool as that is a foundational skill that I wouldn’t want to leave to chance. By teaching my child to read, I would be making sure that my child is identified as a “gifted and talented” student and is tracked into advanced classes later. I wouldn’t want to send my kid to school without basic reading and math skills just for that reason.

Reading is a complex skill involving many sub-skills. Kids need to have phonemic awareness, blending, endurance, comprehension, and fluency. (This list is not comprehensive or scientific—it is just based on my own experience.) I have found that the easiest way to teach phonics and blending is to use technology.

Headsprout.com (which is currently owned by LearningAtoZ) is my absolute go-to for teaching reading. The first half of the program is focused on the phonics and blending skills required to actually read. With my first daughter, I spent hours with a hooked on phonics book showing her how to blend and read. We got through over half the book and it became clear that she was mostly using her understanding of rhyming words to get by. I struggled to maintain patience as I tried other Mom-intensive programs (Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons) and finally found Headsprout through an online search after realizing that technology should have eliminated the need to have Mom demo 1,000,000 times.

I fell in love right away, and 4 kids later, I am still using it as the backbone of my beginning reading program. The computer can demonstrate how to blend as many times as the kid needs, and it can also assess if the child really understands how to build words. The best thing is that if you limit screen time, your child will likely enjoy playing the computer game and enjoy learning to read as well. After 40 lessons, your child will be able to read basic kindergarten/first grade readers.

As Headsprout progresses, it builds comprehension and educated guessing into the program. There are stories to read with questions to answer. There are words like “drink” to sound out and make an educated guess about. Dr-IN-k sounds funny—maybe it is dr-EE-nk. The student gets lots of practice trying to guess the right word when they have sounded it out properly and it isn’t how we actually say it.

I don’t feel like the skill of endurance is there as much as I would like. It is definitely better now than it was when I first started using the program. There are books after almost every episode now, and that wasn’t the case when I began the program with my first daughter.  These pictures show just how much reading growth your child will experience in this program.

I have found that my kids need a lot more endurance practice, so I still supplement with Hooked on Phonics readers from their K-2nd grade reading program.  I start those after the first 40 lessons of Headsprout. Then I go through the kindergarten and first grade books. I start the second half of Headsprout when I am around halfway through the first grade readers, and I do it concurrently as I finish HOP first and second grade.  You could also use library early reader books, but I found it convenient to have leveled readers in my home.

I don’t know if the endurance factor would matter if you were starting later than I do. I typically start around a child’s 3rd birthday. I let them try the lessons and I repeat them if their score is less than 90-95%.

After my child graduates from Headsprout and HOP second grade, I place him/her into Ticket to Read. Ticket to Read has a phonics program that keeps them practicing, but the best part is when they get into the clubhouse. This level lets them focus on comprehension, endurance, and fluency. They have to be able to read a passage at a certain word per minute goal per grade. I usually do the program until my child has graduated from the 3rd grade level. After that, my child is fluent and has made the switch from learning to read to reading to learn. They usually pick up speed on their own after that, but if needed I could always do more Ticket to Read.

My oldest daughter tested (as a kindergartner) at a 12th grade level for decoding and 8th grade for comprehension after my compilation program and is now a voracious reader at 10-years-old. She enjoys reading Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and does well on comprehension exams given to adults. I haven’t really needed to supplement her at all. My son seemed to be fluent and could read very well out loud (testing about late 3th to early 4th grade as a kindergartner), but he didn’t seem to be taking everything in. I got Reading Eggspress for him this year and he is doing very well with that program. I tried the Reading Eggs for my younger one, and didn’t feel like it was as effective as the methods I have already mentioned. I do like Reading Eggpress, and it has helped him get to a 5th grade level in comprehension after 20 lessons. (He started at lesson 100, and is a 1st grader.)

Since Headsprout is now owned by Learning AtoZ, you buy it with a yearly license. That has made it difficult to do my program because I take the break in between the first and second halves of the lessons. To make buying the program cheaper, I recommend going through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op online. If you have extra time, or an older student, you can take advantage of the Headsprout Comprehension program. It is just more practice, and it isn’t necessary, but my son enjoyed it when I bought the program for my 3rd child. (They now give you all the lessons from early reading through comprehension, and they give you multiple seats, so you might as well do it, right?)

In my opinion, the most important thing is to make learning to read as fun as you can. For some people, that might mean snuggle time with Mom or Dad (or both) as you begin your journey to literacy. For people like my kids, that means fun computer programs. However you do it, make happy memories.

For more information:

I use the DORA reading test from Let’s Go Learn online to assess reading capability. I also have tested the kids with the Learning AtoZ benchmark readers.

I am frequently asked what program I would use if I couldn’t or wouldn’t use technology. I would try “All About Reading” as I love their spelling program. I have window shopped their Reading Program online, but I haven’t seen a copy. I have been very tempted to buy it. But their spelling program is so good that I would try their reading program before anything else.

History Odyssey

“What is education? Properly speaking, there is no such thing as education. Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another. What we need is to have a culture before we hand it down. In other words, it is a truth, however sad and strange, that we cannot give what we have not got, and cannot teach to other people what we do not know ourselves.”
~ GK Chesterton “Illustrated London News” (July 5, 1924).

Continue reading

Why am I trying Latin?

So why do I teach Latin to my kids? That is a good question, and I am feeling it out as I go along, but my main motivation for even starting Latin is the fact that the great writers of the past learned Latin. If you Google the question of whether or not to teach Latin to people you will find many articles extolling the virtues of Latin as part of a rigorous, classical education.

They use to teach Latin and Greek to everyone who was educated, and people enjoyed reading Charles Dickens.  They discontinued the practice and now people think books like “Hunger Games,” or the Twilight Series are amazing.
Since I wasn’t fortunate enough to be taught Latin as part of my education, I can’t fall back on personal testimony over whether Latin is worth my kids time or not yet (although my daughter is starting to see connections between words that I never saw), but I think it is worth the effort when I read articles like these:
How can I teach my kids Latin when I have no experience at all in the subject matter?
Well, happily, there are lots of Latin programs that are designed to be used with a teacher who doesn’t know the material.  But for me this has also meant spending money on programs that just did not work out.  Latin for Children (LfC) was like that for me.
On the surface, and after reading many reviews, I thought I had a winner with LfC.  It had DVDs, so I was just the guide, not the teacher.  It had pronunciation CDs and I could decide between either ecclesiastical or classical styles so students in my co-op could choose which style they liked the best.  It had fun readers and lots of materials as well as cool online materials to supplement.  I thought that I would be really successful with the materials.
Then I tried it for a school year.  The idea behind the program is that you memorize a lot of material as a young student so that when you get to actually mastering principles of grammar you have a huge advantage.  But for my kids it meant memorizing things outside of any usable framework or context.  It also meant tons of review sessions because each lesson had a lot of memory work and I didn’t want to lose all of the words we had learned.  Book A had 36 lessons or so to work through and all of them had a ton of memory work.
We gave it up after 10 lessons (one lesson a week) as it was clear that the other members of our co-op weren’t retaining any of the information and my kids were only retaining because we listened to the Latin CDs all. the. time.  I don’t want to work through a curriculum for basic exposure and have nothing to show for all of our effort.
I want understanding to grow and be able to be built upon.
Enter The Form First series from Memoria Press.  My 3rd grade daughter has had so much more success with this series than LfC.  Each lesson explains the concept being taught so there is a context for the memory work, and there are plenty of worksheets to review the material.  I haven’t had to do much with my daughter except have her work through the worksheets, do the oral drills, and either conjugate or decline the vocabulary (10 words) per lesson.   I have been amazed by her progress.  She even told me that she didn’t really understand what Latin was until we switched from LfC to First Form.
First Form is hard work and can be really monotonous, but Latin isn’t supposed to be fun and games.  It is supposed to discipline the mind.  How will that be done without having the student complete something they don’t want to do?  My daughter sometimes groans when I tell her to get her Latin out, but then she tells me how proud she is of her Latin homework binder.
It forces attention to detail because when an assignment is graded a student sees the silly mistakes that were made and how that affects their grade.  If a student doesn’t want to spend time correcting an assignment then being more meticulous becomes a virtue.
A parent that is looking for a more “fun” approach to learning a language, and who doesn’t have strong expectations of retention would probably prefer the fun approach from Latin for Children.  But a parent who wants Latin to accomplish the goals listed in the articles I found will be much more satisfied with the Memoria Press version of Latin education.
Personally, if I were the first type of parent, I would teach my child Spanish or French as Latin doesn’t seem as useful unless it accomplishes the discipline, rigor, and precision its study promises.  Just having a passing familiarity with a foreign language is good for when you go to a Mexican restaurant and remember hearing the word leche and feel excited that you vaguely remember it may mean “milk.”
Does that mean that I have sold off my LfC materials?  No, I have them with my Minimus Latin materials because I used to be that mom that wanted every curriculum to be super fun.  Maybe I will be able to pull them out and use them someday in some other context—I think Minimus looks like fun to just sit and read during a summer.  And maybe one of my kids down the line will enjoy looking through the LfC materials.  But for now First Form is doing the job admirably.
As a side note, I never received any of the materials for my reviews or opinion.  I paid my own hard-earned cash and this is my own opinion after trying both options.