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Classical Education at Home

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

Worries about #COVID into this next school season has caused many families to consider educating their children at home. This was our chosen path since our first child was six years old, twenty years ago now. Let me assure you, not only is educating your child at home doable, but it isn't even very intimidating once you understand some basics. Indiana is one of the best states in the country in which families may homeschool, as our requirements are to teach English as the primary language and to maintain an attendance record. If you are outside of Indiana, your state is very likely to have a #homeschool association that will guide you in understanding your local laws and regulations.

Even without COVID fears, many are not living near a school with dedicated teachers invested in developing your child's skills in reading, writing, arithmetic, history and science, and working within small classrooms that are safe. They aren't all equipped to teach logic, critical thinking skills, and advanced writing or offer one-on-one instruction. Debate, art history, and music appreciation aren't often prioritized, or even vocational skills and technical training. Many parents are concluding if they want their children to have an excellent education, they need to take control of it themselves.

One point I always make to families transitioning into educating their children at home is to appreciate that the goal is not to replicate what you've become accustomed to in the government schools. Keep in mind, government schools and the education of the school teachers is a lot about classroom management of many, many children. You will have one child or at least your own to focus offering you the opportunity to discover what works best for both your child, and your family.

A second point is that for only the very first few years are you actually educating your child one-on-one; afterwards, you are guiding them and holding them accountable. Many larger school corporations are spoon-feeding students scripted educational material intent on any particular agenda. Home educators typically prioritize teaching children how to think moreso than what to think. The advantage here is that your children can then explore wherever their little minds desire and you get to guide them to assure they dig into their studies in a balanced way, at least eventually.

My third suggestion is never, ever try to do everything suggested. Homeschool guides and curriculums are sort of like and all you can eat buffet. Remember portion size or you will become very overwhelmed and burnt out. This is hard when there are so many options and you're so excited to dive into all that is available, but don't do it. You'll get stuck and make even less progress.

Classical Education has been our Preference

There are many online quizzes that can help focus your homeschool direction in that they evaluate your values and core goals and then stir you towards a philosophy most fitting. I tend to be more of a potato-head homeschool momma in that I like to pull from everywhere and create my own approach. Classical education however, is always among my top preferences and a curriculum which is heavily nature and worldly-based.

Classical education is language-centered, not image-centered. Students read and listen and write, but rarely watch. Early years are spent learning facts, laying the foundation for advanced study. Children are taught to think through arguments, and then they are taught to express themselves. Younger children easily absorb information, greatly enjoy memorization, and aren't really focused on self-expression and self-discovery. They want to learn the rules of phonics and spelling, rules for grammar, poems, vocabulary, history and literature, plants and animals - on and on forever and ever. By fifth grade, children start to think more analytically. They are asking why more often, thinking more logically. They focus on cause and effect, to relationships among the various fields of knowledge, and are curious about the way facts fit together. The final years are more focused in rhetoric when they learn to write and speak with force and originality. These are the years they focus more specifically on their passions.

Language learning requires a bit more mental fortitude. One must translate a symbol into a concept. Imagines, such as those on television or video games, allow the mind to be passive. The brain can essentially "sit back and relax," but the mind is required to wake up and remain alert when faced with the written word. The other intriguing aspect of a classical education is that subjects aren't learned in isolation as our governmental programs are modeled. This mindset has plagued our healthcare system too, in that specialists forget that health anywhere in the body is dependent on health throughout the body. We can't isolate the various subjects of our education or we get lost without direction or connection.

There is debate about filling our young one's minds with facts, as so many prefer to let children prioritize self-expression. I love that too, but the Classical Education's infamous leaders have shared that if you squeeze a dry sponge, nothing comes out. If we want our children to have thoughtfulness and be creative, even offer critical thought, they must have some facts and information within their minds to create individual rationalizations. Their sponge has to be filled. It has also been said that too much self-expression early on may cause them greater challenge later, as they lack a frame of reference and a sense of how their ideas measure up against their thoughts and beliefs of others.

Often I hear parents say they could never educate their children at home, as they haven't the patience for it. This always perplexes me a bit as these parents clearly taught their children to walk and even taught them the very complicated English language. Educating your child at home doesn't require drawing a line between parenting and teaching. Our teaching of our children begins at birth and can continue throughout their lives.

Preschool: Birth through Age Three

Immersing your toddler in language is the top priority at this age. Turn off the television. Talk to your child. Tell her all about your day. Explain to her what you are doing. Research has discovered that children read to while they are in the womb can recognize, in their infancy, if they are being read to in another language and when the sentence is read backwards. Language is not simply about reading or even communicating, but it is how we process our thoughts and feelings. Many years ago I heard that our feelings match the depths of our vocabulary. A limited vocabulary will limit our ability to think and express our emotions.

Our preschoolers love to be read to and they love repetition. Read the same books over and over. Ask your child questions about what was read. Sing the alphabet song. Shape the letters in play-dough. Let your little scribble. Help them write their letters in a tub of rice. Write with chalk. Count fingers, toes, eyes, and ears. Count rocks and sticks. Play hide-and-seek. Count to five and then to ten, fifteen, even twenty. County by twos, fives, and tens. Let them race around the yard after you count backwards for takeoff. Read number books. Read about nature. Read about people in different cultures.

Kindergarten Years: Four & Five

This age group still very much enjoys and benefits greatly from play and continued reading. Writing becomes a bit more important and crafting skills are increasingly enjoyable, but many still aren't quite ready for very much paper-and-pencil work. Skipping a formal kindergarten program and entering directly into first grade is unlikely to prove much difference in the child's development, except maybe they'll already know how to stand in line and raise their hand before they speak. Aim to teach your child reading and arithmetic the same way you taught them to put their shoes on their right foot, to pick up their toys, and to dress themselves - simply demonstrate the basic skills yourself, practice them a few times each day, and walla - let them impress you. Stickers might make this all a bit easier too, but not necessary.

Simple books on tape are excellent for children while riding in the car or while you're cooking dinner. Magnet letters on the refrigerator are an excellent tool for teaching the littles their letters and letter sounds, or even an alphabet puzzle. While four and five year olds can learn phonics and even reading, fine motor skills often take a little bit longer; therefore, handwriting can be delayed a bit longer. Bob Books are popular starter books. Explore the Code is popular for introducing phonics, but wait to begin these until your little is ready for paper work. Handwriting Without Tears is the more popular handwriting approach. Four-year-olds are quite good at learning their letters and the sounds of each. Ultimately, the goal is to assist your child to read by the time they begin first grade.

As you advance your math teachings, use beans, buttons, chocolate chips, or kitty counters. Teach them about money. Teach fractions while cooking. Play Uno. Practice counting to 100. Teach them the clock, geometric figures, and learn to write numbers. The local library will have books about math and numbers which your little will enjoy. Kindergarten math is really more a fun game than academic.

A piece of advice: I valued individual expression a great deal so while I taught my children how to follow the arrows when we began penmanship, I allowed them to modify their lessons and establish their own style. The more they progressed with their writing, particularly into cursive writing, the more this individual style challenged them. They really do need to learn counter-clockwise circles and where each letter begins and ends. Some of my children would start at the bottom or opposite side and I allowed them to figure out what worked best for them. However, having a few children with autism and at least one with significant dyslexia, I hadn't previously realized how much we learn without really being taught. For example, we read from the top left side of the page to the lower right. I also clean my home this way, mopping from one side of the room to the next. My autistic children however, start at the bottom of their letters, in the middle of the page, and the middle of the room. They have no real direction when writing. This took a lot longer to unlearn and reteach than had I been more particular when they were young.

Younger Elementary

The primary goal of these early elementary years is to teach proper use of language so that it becomes second nature to your littles. Later, your children will learn logic and rhetoric, but first they must learn how-to write and express themselves verbally. Until the child can read without difficulty, he can't absorb the grammar of history, literature, or science and until he can write with ease, he can't express his growing mastery of this material. Therefore, children at this age need to master spelling, English grammar itself, reading, and writing. This is where the bulk of their time should be spent at this age.

These early years though, children's development varies so greatly, many homeschoolers don't prescribe to assigning them particular grades. Rather, they progress each child through each subject as they master the content, with each subject varying based on their strengths and interests. We tend to think more in levels than in grades. Rather than simply "pass" their assigned work, homeschooled children are more often expected to master their work prior to advancing to the next level.

Ultimately, spelling, grammar, reading, and writing should be well developed by the end of fourth grade, at or around the age of ten or eleven. First grade would initiate when your little has completed The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and they've covered phonics rules and are reading simple books without reluctance. They should also know how to form their letters, but writing isn't pertinent just yet. Letter reversal can still persist at this age; however, dyslexia is far more complex than so many understand so if you have concerns, please connect with myself or your child's primary care provider for an evaluation. Interestingly, one can't reverse cursive letters so starting this earlier may resolve this hurdle.