Classics / Trivium Archives - Eva Varga

February 12, 200916

When I meet new people and they learn that we homeschool, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “How do you do it? Do you buy curriculum?” Generally, the one asking is simply being polite and isn’t seeking a lengthy response. I try to put it in a nutshell and I reply, “I do buy some curricula (a math text and workbook so I don’t omit something and history); mostly though we do a lot of reading and science.” Occassionally, they will inquire further – but generally not.

I usually don’t go into our methods unless I am speaking to another homeschooler. Even other certified educators are unfamiliar with the leading philosophies of home education. Evidenced when they tilt their head and their brow line turns down as their eyes focus in on my face as if to say, “What are you talking about?”

A recent post on the Well Trained Minds forum led me to give some thought to how two different approaches to homeschool education are so well suited for one another. I thought I would take a minute to summarize how we utilize both in our homeschool.

What we do a la Charlotte Mason:

  • Lessons of short duration
  • Lots of narration (all oral at this point)
  • Lots of copywork
  • Nature Walks
  • Picture Study
  • Composer Study
  • Living Books (i.e. good literature)
  • Shakespeare
  • Lots of handcrafts (cross-stitch, crochet, illustration, etc.)
  • Masterly Inactivity encouraged
  • Foreign Language (Charlotte encouraged French – remember she hailed from England in the late 1800s – we went with Mandarin and Spanish)

What we do a la Classical / Trivium:

  • 4 year rotation (science and history)
  • Story of the World
  • Classic Literature (Gilgamesh, Odyssey, Shakespeare, etc.)
  • Latin (though not yet)
  • Singapore Math
  • 3 distinct stages: Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric

Yet, I would imagine our school doesn’t look anything like the school of another family following Charlotte Mason or the Trivium. People learn by playing, thinking and amazing themselves. They learn while they’re laughing at something surprising, and they learn while they’re wondering “What the heck is this!?” I thereby sprinkle in a little Sandra Dodd / John Holt into our approach to education.

Thus, a little bit Unschooling:

  • Life learning
  • Child directed (though I do plan lesssons, I will change direction upon interest)
  • Very much ‘play’ oriented (particularly at this age) – i.e., Masterly Inactivity
  • We do not adhere to a rigid schedule, we go with the flow and with what feels right

There is no right way to educate your children at home. It is a journey. You’ll find what works for you along the way. The important thing to remember is that you are building solid relationships with your children. You are growing and learning together.

December 31, 20083

When I first started homeschooling, I devoured print and online materials about teaching styles, approaches to education at home, and curriculum. Along the way, I came across the philosophy of Charlotte Mason and soon thereafter, The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Bauer. I was immediately drawn to the style of Charlotte Mason – her blend of practices includes narration and copywork, nature study, fine arts, languages, real-life applications, and a Literature based curriculum instead of textbooks. I knew this was how I wanted to educate my children. When I discovered The Well-Trained Mind, I suddenly had a plan – a road map that would lead us along our homeschooling journey.

I spent hours devising our Master Plan. Planning. Listing the subjects and skills I wanted my children to be exposed to and eventually master. I began a list of curriculum and books that I would use as resources. I noted programs and certification opportunities that I wanted my children to take advantage of as we progressed (Junior Ranger Programs, Scouts, 4H, Roots & Shoots, etc.).

One of the most exciting components of the Well-Trained Mind was the 4-year cycle. To me, this was the perfect way to approach science and history. It provided me with an open-ended calendar or planning template. I thereafter created a cycle for nature study as well. Keeping in mind that I wanted to be flexible – allowing the children’s interests and questions direct us in our studies. History
Our history study is going slowly – we explore each culture / country as it is introduced in The Story of the World extensively before we move on to the next chapter. Life has also gotten into the way. We have frequently neglected history, set aside our study of the ancients as we have focused on other subjects. We are renewing focus this week. I hope to finish the text by June – assuming that we’ll go faster as the book revisits regions.

Nature Study
Though I am fastidious about taking advantage of teachable moments and imparting nature knowledge to the kiddos as opportunities present themselves, I haven’t been approaching nature study in any organized manner whatsoever. I need to do better. I can do better.

We’ve spent most of this school year focusing on life sciences. Throughout the summer, we focused on plants. In the fall, we began an extensive look at the animal kingdom beginning with vertebrate animals and most recently invertebrates. In doing so, we have integrated ecology studies learning about forest ecosystems and most recently, ocean ecosystems: open ocean (sunlight, twilight & midnight zones), coral reefs, kelp forests, rocky shores, sandy beaches and estuaries(eel beds, mudflats & salt marshes).

Over the past month or so, the kiddos have been asking more and more questions about the earth. What are the names of the planets? How are rocks made? How does a volcano erupt? What happened to the dinosaurs? What is it like on the other planets? Do animals live on other planets? Their interest and curiousity about geology has grown. Last week Sweetie asked me, “When are we going to learn about the earth? I am tired of animals.”

I had originally intended on spending the winter and spring on the human body and additional ecology studies. However, I can not delay their interest any longer. I need to take advantage of their passion and follow their direction. I feel strongly this is just what Charlotte Mason would have advised. Allowing the children’s interests to direct our learning. We’re thereby going to jump to earth sciences with the new year. I’ll keep you posted of developments as we proceed.

April 16, 20087

I just finished another great book on homeschooling… Anyone considering homeschooling should read this book. Parents who are frustrated with the public school system but fear they wouldn’t be successful teaching their own should read this book.

Let me state for the record that when I decided to homeschool my children, I was honestly intimidated. All my teacher education had brainwashed me. I was convinced that parents couldn’t possibly teach their own children. It had to be done in an institutional setting… professionals with specialized training and expertise. I happen to have a teacher’s certificate. But even now, just 9 months into our homeschooling journey, I have learned more academic material, more about how to manage individual relationships with children, and more about how to teach than I did in any of my teacher-education courses. Teacher-education courses gave me a great deal of good information on how to manage large groups of children. I needed that in schools, but a parent doesn’t need it to teach at home.

The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home
by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. It is very similar to The Thomas Jefferson Education that I posted about a few weeks ago… an approach to my children’s education based upon the classics with a heavy emphasis on reading and writing. Teaching history, science and literature in a four-year pattern; a pattern that roughly corresponds to the periods of scientific discovery.

Ancients ~ 5000 BC-AD 400 ~ Biology/Plants/Human Body
Medieval/Early Renaissance ~ 400-1600 ~ Earth Science/Astronomy
Late Renaissance/Early Modern ~ 1600-1850 ~ Chemistry
Modern ~ 1850-Present ~ Physics/Computer Science

“This pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science, and literature – subjects that are too often fragmented and confusing. The pattern widens and deepens as the child matures and learns. A first grader may listen to you read the story of the Iliad from one of the picture-book versions available at any public library. Four years later, the fifth grader reads one of the popular middle-grade adaptations – Olivia Coolidge’s The Trojan War, or example. The ninth grader, faced with Homer’s Ilidad itself – plunges right in, undaunted. She already knows the story. What’s to be scared of?”

It is strongly based upon ancient approaches to education called the trivium, which covered grammar, logic, and rhetoric as the tools by which a student can then analyze and master every other subject. Loosely, logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known; grammar is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-symbolized; and rhetoric is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-communicated

One of the most impressive things about this book is that it doesn’t just provide the theories, reasons, and/or personal accounts for why this approach works. It provides a history of classical education, an overview of the methodology and philosophy of classical education, and best of all (at least in my mind) an annotated lists of books, divided by grade and topic, that list the best books for classical education in each category. In essence, the authors (both homeschoolers themselves!) have done the heavy lifting by filtering through all the materials available today. For math curriculum, for example, they even weigh the pros/cons for all the major curriculum materials (Saxon, A Beka, Singapore, Math-U-See, Calvert, etc.) and thereby make a suggestion for the one that they feel is the best and why. This is why the book is so huge – 810 pages!

Note: Some of their suggestions are of other books they have authored yet they make a strong point of assuring readers to go their own route… choosing what is best for the interests/maturity level/needs/etc. of the students – your children. Their suggestions are just that – suggestions. Potential starting points.

I am so excited to be on this journey with my children. I know there will be good days and bad – bring it on!