Substantive Education

March 5, 2011

We should be less concerned with the answers they know, and more concerned about the questions they ask.

Filed under: Education,Homeschooling,Parenting,Uncategorized — kbagdanov @ 10:25 pm
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Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Phillipians 4:8

My greatest fear when we began this homeschooling journey was not that the boys wouldn’t get into college, or even that I would miss some crucial bit of information, (that was inevitable); it was that when they finished high school, they would breathe a sigh of relief and say, “I’m done.”

Over the years I’d met many frustrated and discontented 20 somethings who felt that completing high school meant they knew all they needed to know. Post high school, many of these kids never read another book, and what passed as intellectual stimulation came in the form of reality TV and video games. In talking with these young adults, it became evident that their world was very small and self centered. Frequently they were struggling with issues of identity and worth, but didn’t know why.  The lessons they had internalized were that school is a waste, reading is a chore,  teachers are uncaring, and history is irrelevant…the school system had failed them and it was not just their education that suffered.

When our minds and spirits are starved of good healthy ‘food’ we don’t function as we were meant to, our growth is stunted and every area of our life suffers. This is not what any of us want, we want our children to live the full life that God created them for. We want them to enjoy life, to excel in what they do, to find satisfaction in relationships, and to contribute to their communities. When we make homeschooling and parenting decisions we need to keep these goals in mind. Proficiency at math and reading are a start, but we also want children who are prepared to take on all the challenges of the next stage of life.

What do you want for your children? How can you help them get there? Philippians 4:8 gives us a beginning point. This verse points out that whatever is true, right, beautiful is about God, and it would benefit us to dwell on these things. As I consider this verse I am struck by how inclusive it is…all that is beautiful is worth studying, not just that which makes a profit. All that is just, true and right should be our focus…not only that which is expedient or has an immediate application.  By providing a ‘diet’ for their minds and spirits of the beautiful, the just, the excellent, we give our children a strong foundation, a good beginning…and instill the desire to continue learning and experiencing all that God has for them.

Caleb during his semester abroad studying literature in the UK

For me, I wanted my children to love art, and to play music. I wanted them to be in awe of the beauty in nature. I wanted them to be curious about past civilizations and engaged with current events. I wanted them to experience other cultures and to appreciate that diversity. I wanted them to have an education that was rich and full, an education that encouraged curiosity and critical thinking. I was less concerned about the answers they knew and more concerned about the questions they asked.

Approaching education this way is both exciting and uncomfortable. It’s exciting because it’s alive; changing us and challenging us. It’s uncomfortable because very little of it is going to come through on some standardized test. It’s hard to measure the ‘educational’ benefits of art, or where enjoyment of a nature walk fits into a science scope and sequence. How does reading a great work of fiction that brings us to both tears and laughter, translate into a grade?

As homeschoolers we have been freed. We are not enslaved to the almighty ‘standardized test’ we do not have to view education in a dry, compartmentalized way. We can focus on the whole child: mind, body, and spirit…and feed them all. What a wonderful opportunity, be sure you don’t waste it.


November 2, 2010

Life is Hard and then….

“Life is hard, and then you die.”

Many of you will recognize the above quote as one I use frequently.  It’s really not that I’m a pessimist, it’s more that I’ve come to the conclusion that the sooner you embrace that thought, really take it to heart, the easier life is.  Life is hard…( wonderful, exciting, challenging)…but hard.  If you live for any length of time… people you know will die, jobs will be lost, illnesses will occur, hearts will be broken and dreams damaged. People are messy (both emotionally and in the kitchen).

Denying this reality, to ourselves or to our children, doesn’t create happiness and contentment.  In fact, it frequently creates the opposite.  When we teach our children to expect life to be easy they can feel extremely disappointed and put upon when it is not.  If we lead them to expect that they should always be entertained, happy, and healthy we are setting them up to become demanding little monsters (lovable monsters but…) I certainly don’t mean to imply that we should teach our children negativity, but that we should teach them that life is full of hard parts…and while we can’t control that, we can control our attitudes.

It would benefit each of us to remember that life is not meant to be a smooth road.  It is the detours and bumps that stretch and grow us up.  It is the persevering and doing what is difficult, day in and day out, that builds character.  It is modeling all of this with a cheerful heart that gives our children an example to follow.

We have all seen our children struggle with a subject and start down their own self-defeating path.  “It’s too hard.”  “Other kids don’t struggle with this.”  “I’ll do it tomorrow.”  “I’ll never understand it.”   They can get themselves so worked up that they waste an hour doing nothing but feeling sorry for themselves. In that time they could have finished the assignment four times over.  The fact that the lesson was hard, made them feel they should be allowed to just give up.  It’s at these times I would look over at  my sons and say.”Life is hard, then you die.”  They would laugh, they knew I didn’t mean all of life is hard, but that hard is part of life, and the more challenges we take on, the more we accomplish, the more we are going to bump up against hard parts. (more…)

September 4, 2010

Charter Schools versus Homeschooling

This has actually been a difficult article for me to write and one I have put off repeatedly. I was asked again today about Charter Schools and I decided it was time I address the issue.

First,and most importantly, I fervently believe parents should be able to determine how best to educate their children. We, (not the government) will answer to God for the choices that we make regarding our kids, and therefore we should be free to make the one that best fits our family, convictions, and beliefs. That choice can legitimately be public, private, charter or homeschool. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these options, and it’s up to you to decide where your family fits. In this article I am not looking to argue for one over the other, or to make anyone uncomfortable, but to address my concerns regarding the confusion between homeschooling and Charter Schools.

The survival of the homeschooling movement, from a legal perspective, may come from making a clear distinction between homeschooling and Charter Schools. Choosing to use a Charter is a viable alternative, it is not homeschooling. This line is becoming very blurred, and I believe this is intentional. It is one way to reclaim lost revenue and undermine the homeschooling system that has developed over the past 20 years, and to regulate and control what is taught in our homes. If we do not recognize the dangers, our children may not be free to homeschool with the same freedoms that we now enjoy. (more…)

August 28, 2010


Steve giving Joe a hug goodbye. So proud of him.

Originally, I published this article in 2008 when we were dropping Caleb off for his Freshman year at Westmont.  I’m republishing it today because we just attended Joseph’s Freshman orientation and Service of Commitment.  This tradition of making a formal commitment as the school year begins, brings into clearer focus what our purpose is.   As you and your children begin this school year, whether they are going to school or being homeschooled I hope reading the litanies at the end of this article brings you clarity and hope for the year.

Last week (Sept. 2008) we dropped two of our sons off at Westmont College to begin another year. It’s always an emotional time and Westmont seems determined to make it more so. One of the elements to Freshman orientation is the Service of Commitment. I thought part of it worth repeating here as we begin a new year. If you are unfamiliar with Westmont college it is a small, Christian, liberal arts college in Santa Barbara…Montecito actually. It is built on an old estate and everywhere on campus you are either going up or down the hill…very little is flat.

(quick note, the pics are not mine but Merrill Pirates, and came up when I googled Westmont images.)

When students graduate from Westmont they gather on Kerrwood lawn which is on the top end of campus and march together, for the last time, down the paths through campus to the baseball field which are set up for graduation. They are led by bagpipers, next comes all the faculty in their academic robes, and lastly, the the students. As you sit you can hear the faint sound of the bagpipes moving from the top of campus down until they emerge onto the ballfields. Once there, the faculty, instead of continuing to their seats lines the path the graduates take and cheers and applauds them as they pass by. It’s a great tradition and especially moving for parents who were at the service of commitment. (more…)

April 6, 2010

January 4, 2010

January Newsletter/Teacher Challenge

Filed under: Education,Homeschooling — kbagdanov @ 10:23 pm
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Homeschooling has a rather large learning curve, the first year or two can be tough. Parents have a lot to learn to take over the role as their child’s educator. It can be overwhelming. Hopefully, most of you are moving past this initial adjustment period and are feeling more confident that you have a handle on the basics.

If you are in this initial stage this article isn’t necessarily for you. You need to focus on bringing yourself up to speed on the homeschooling movement and all the options available to you. There are a wealth of resources out there, books, websites, other parents…make use of them. Educate yourself about learning styles, various approaches, and new curriculums. Read a few books on homeschooling to gather ideas and different perspectives. The more you know, the easier it will be and the more confident you will feel.

However, for those of you who have been at this for a while and have become seasoned parent educators it may be time to move to a more advanced level. My goal (and after talking with most of you) a common goal, is that we educate our children in such a way as to make them life-long learners. We want more for our children than what we experienced in school. If our goal is to have children who love to read, who question thoughtfully, who think critically, and who pursue truth, then we are going to approach their education differently than if we just want them to master a certain amount of material and take a test on it. Our tasks becomes so much more than just choosing the right math book or phonics program.

How do we go about instilling these desires and values in our children? We’ve discussed various ways in previous newsletters, but the key I believe is our example. Our children watch us and they decide what we value, not so much by what we say, but by how we live.

  • We tell our children that we want them to be readers… do they see us reading?
  • We encourage them to find the theme in a piece of literature they are studying.. but do we question and have discussions with them about what we are reading?
  • We take them on field trips to look at great works of art…but have we learned enough to appreciate what we are seeing?
  • We assign Shakespeare, Steinbeck, and Dickens for their high school reading…but have we ever read them?
  • We assign Bible and/or devotional reading to them…do they see us studying our Bibles and praying?

Are we sending a mixed message. Have our children ever heard us say…

  • I never liked history, it’s dry and boring.
  • I know you’ll never need Algebra but I had to learn it and now you do too.
  • I hate writing.
  • I just believe in Jesus, I don’t need all that Theology stuff.
  • I’m just not a reader.

We’ve all given mixed messages at some point. If there is one thing I would change about how I’ve homeschooled my children it would be how I approached math. Unfortunately, my children were well aware of and adopted my aversion to Algebra.

So as we start the New Year I’d like to challenge each of us to model being a life-long learner in a tangible and intentional way to our children. If you want to formally join in on the challenge I’m going to publish this article on the website. Post your goal in the comments section and we can help hold one another accountable. Don’t know where to start…here are a few ideas.

  • Read a classic. Here is a website with some ideas if you don’t know where to start.
  • Read a classic Christian book like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
  • Study an artist, you can do this for free on the web. Try Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, Monet, or Picasso.
  • Take a class.
  • Teach yourself Algebra (maybe before your children get that old).
  • Learn to play an instrument…it’s never to late.

September 14, 2009


Filed under: Homeschooling — kbagdanov @ 6:07 am
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What about Socialization?

It has always been interesting to me that the big objection to homeschooling is that children will not be adequately socialized. Again this seems to come back to the stereotypes that people have of homeschoolers.
From a common sense stand point this argument has always struck me as odd. Children are not born with social skills, so how do we expect other, also unsocialized children, to teach our children social skills. What they learn is how to survive, to get their way, or to bully. They have to be taught to be polite, to be kind, and to share, all skills best learned from the adults in their lives, not from other children.

I’ve, also heard that children need to be in school to learn to deal with the ‘real’ world. What about school is real? It is a totally artificial situation which will never be duplicated again once a child graduates. Where in your adult life are you grouped with 30 other individuals who are exactly the same age as you, in a completely structured environment?

For parents concerned about this issue, there are a multitude of choices that are far superior to the option of institutionalizing your children for 13 years. There are church groups, school groups, park days, and sports activities. If your child is dramatic you can join a theatre group, if they want to do karate, they can take a class. My boys were with other children almost every day of their childhood at some activity or another.

Most importantly, children with a strong sense of self, or identity generally socialize easily, both with other children and with adults. I think the advantages that the homeschool child has in terms of identity is probably one of homeschoolings greatest advantages.

For those of us who have come up through the public school system, we understand how strongly our identity was influenced by our school relationships. Years after high school students who were in the ‘nerd’ group are still uncomfortable around the ‘popular’ kids. The insecurities picked up on the playground continue to play a role into adulthood. It takes work to leave those insecurities behind because they became a part of us when we were too young to evaluate whether or not they were true or valid.

Children who are homeschooled are somewhat baffled by this, they have never had to survive in the typical school situation and cannot appreciate the pressures put on their friends to ‘fit in’. Without this pressure our children are free to develop as individuals and don’t view themselves in the same way that their counterparts in school do. I didn’t fully appreciate this advantage to homeschooling until my children were grown, but watching them now, seeing how this freedom has allowed them to develop self-confidence and the ability to relate to many different people…I think it’s become one of the biggest advantages I see.

Since this is one of those topics that seems to concern everyone, it is not surprising that research has been done. Now that a generation of homeschool students have come of age and are adults, surveys have been taken to see if the socializing aspects of homeschooling have been successful. (Again, the details of this study are available at HSLDA commissioned the largest research survey done to date of those who have been home educated. The study was conducted by Dr. Brian Ray and surveyed over 7,300 adults who were homeschooled. Over 5,000 of these had been home educated for at least 7 years. Here are some of the results from this study.

Over 74% of home educated adults between the ages of 18 and 24 had gone on to take college level courses compared to 46% of their public school counterparts.

71% of homeschool adults were found to participate in ongoing community service activities…whether this be coaching a sports team, volunteering at a school or working with a church…compared to 37% of adults of similar ages. 88% of homeschooled adults were members of organizations like community groups, unions, professional organizations, and churches, compared to 50% of U.S. Adults.

Homeschoolers also tend to be more politically minded and involved.

Only 4.2% of the homeschool graduates surveyed consider politics and government too complicated to understand, compared to 35% of U.S. adults. This may account for why homeschool graduates work for candidates, contribute to campaigns, and vote in much higher percentages than the general population of the United States. For example, 76% of homeschool graduates surveyed between the ages of 18–24 voted within the last five years, compared to only 29% of the relevant U.S. population. The numbers of homeschool graduates who vote are even greater in the older age brackets, with voting levels not falling below 95%, compared to a high of 53% for the corresponding U.S. Populace.”

The study also had some other interesting statistics that I share, well, because I found them interesting. 90% of the homeschoolers surveyed had used the public library in the past year as compared to 56% of the general population. 98% of homeschooled adults had read a book in the past 6 months, as compared to 69% of the general population. 91% of homeschoolers believed that a citizen should be able to make a speech against the church and religion as opposed to 88% of the general population.

So there you have it, socialization… no problem. It appears that as adults homeschooled children go on to get further education, are involved citizens, and continue to be active in community life, as well as using the public library and defending the right to free speech.

September 2, 2009

Are Parents Really Qualified to Teach their Children?

As we start off the year I thought it worth going over some of the most recent test results on homeschooling as well as answering some of the ‘most asked’ questions. So to start us off….

Are parents really qualified to teach their children?

Yes, although I understand if you have your doubts. We have been taught to think that we need a special credential to teach our children and that if we teach something in the wrong order our children will be permanently damaged. As you will see in a minute, the research suggests that not only are parents qualified, but that they do a much better job than the majority of schools.

The reasons should be obvious…who is more concerned and tuned in to a child than his parents? Who knows his/her strengths and weaknesses better? Who is more interested in seeing that child succeed? What school can offer the individualized help that a parent can offer? Just the one on one tutoring nature of homeschooling gives it many advantages over a classroom situation.

Added to the fact that parents have far smaller ‘classes’ to teach, curriculum writers have realized that homeschoolers are a big market and have written curriculums with the parent/educator in mind. You don’t need a credential to use these materials, most come with step by step instructions. Understanding that parents will be doing the teaching, curriculum writers have taken that into account and made their products usable for families.

In addition, many homeschool parents, frustrated with what is out there in terms of curriculum, have written and marketed their own, and it is excellent. Unlike your local school, where one curriculum fits all, parents are free to choose from the hundreds of quality programs that are out there, the one that will fit their child the best.

For a multitude of reasons, homeschooling has proven itself successful…but don’t just take my word for it. Let’s look at some of the research that has been done.

Studies have been conducted by Universities, State boards of education, and various Education Research organizations. There have been studies done on both academic achievement, and the all important socialization issue.

Here are the results from the most recently published research project. The following is taken from the HSLDA website. You can go to the site to view even more details.

Drawing from 15 independent testing services, the Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics included 11,739 homeschooled students from all 50 states who took three well-known tests—California Achievement Test, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, and Stanford Achievement Test for the 2007–08 academic year. The Progress Report is the most comprehensive homeschool academic study ever completed.

The Results

Overall the study showed significant advances in homeschool academic achievement as well as revealing that issues such as student gender, parents’ education level, and family income had little bearing on the results of homeschooled students.

National Average Percentile Scores
Subtest Homeschool Public School
Reading 89 50
Language 84 50
Math 84 50
Science 86 50
Social Studies 84 50
Corea 88 50
Compositeb 86 50

a. Core is a combination of Reading, Language, and Math.
b. Composite is a combination of all subtests that the student took on the test.

There was little difference between the results of homeschooled boys and girls on core scores.

Boys—87th percentile
Girls—88th percentile

Household income had little impact on the results of homeschooled students.

$34,999 or less—85th percentile
$35,000–$49,999—86th percentile
$50,000–$69,999—86th percentile
$70,000 or more—89th percentile

The education level of the parents made a noticeable difference, but the homeschooled children of non-college educated parents still scored in the 83rd percentile, which is well above the national average.

Neither parent has a college degree—83rd percentile
One parent has a college degree—86th percentile
Both parents have a college degree—90th percentile

Whether either parent was a certified teacher did not matter.

Certified (i.e., either parent ever certified)—87th percentile
Not certified (i.e., neither parent ever certified)—88th percentile

Parental spending on home education made little difference.

Spent $600 or more on the student—89th percentile
Spent under $600 on the student—86th percentile

The extent of government regulation on homeschoolers did not affect the results.

Low state regulation—87th percentile
Medium state regulation—88th percentile
High state regulation—87th percentile

In short, the results found in the new study are consistent with 25 years of research, which show that as a group homeschoolers consistently perform above average academically. The Progress Report also shows that, even as the numbers and diversity of homeschoolers have grown tremendously over the past 10 years, homeschoolers have actually increased the already sizeable gap in academic achievement between themselves and their public school counterparts-moving from about 30 percentile points higher in the Rudner study (1998) to 37 percentile points higher in the Progress Report (2009).

As mentioned earlier, the achievement gaps that are well-documented in public school between boys and girls, parents with lower incomes, and parents with lower levels of education are not found among homeschoolers. While it is not possible to draw a definitive conclusion, it does appear from all the existing research that homeschooling equalizes every student upwards. Homeschoolers are actually achieving every day what the public schools claim are their goals—to narrow achievement gaps and to educate each child to a high level. (Emphasis – mine)

Of course, an education movement which consistently shows that children can be educated to a standard significantly above the average public school student at a fraction of the cost—the average spent by participants in the Progress Report was about $500 per child per year as opposed to the public school average of nearly $10,000 per child per year—will inevitably draw attention from the K-12 public education industry. “

July 17, 2009

The Classical Method

Filed under: Education,Homeschooling — kbagdanov @ 9:06 pm
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Continuing in this series…One of the most popular movements among homeschoolers has been a movement back to the Classical approach.  This method hearkens back to the Middle Ages.  There are many different books on this method, each with it’s own unique take on how it should be implemented.  Here I will try to give you  what is generally common to all.

The classical approach to home education stresses the use of the Trivium.  The Trivium is a three-part process of training the mind  of the child:  the Grammar stage, the Logic stage, and the Rhetoric stage.  Each stage focuses on a different developmental stage.

The Grammar stage, early elementary school, is the first.  During this time a child is ready to begin absorbing information.  The child thinks in concrete terms, enjoys memorizing facts, and is happy accumulating information on a wide range of topics.  This is the time to lay a firm foundation.  This is not a time for in depth analysis or personal self-expression, but a time to get the basic structure in place so that as the child grows and learns they will have many ‘hooks’ on which to attach new information.  During this time children learn basic math facts, rules of phonics and spelling, history stories, and definitions of  basic science.

The next stage is the Logic stage.  Children enter this stage in late elementary school, or Jr. High.  During this stage students are capable of abstract reasoning and become obsessed with discovering ‘why’.  Children are interested in cause and effect, and begin to see relationships between different fields of study.  During this phase they are ready to begin the study of algebra, a more abstract field of mathematics.  Instead of just learning the facts of the War of 1812, students now need to know what caused the war, what lessons can be learned from it.  In english, students begin to apply logic to their writing, following carefully reasoned paragraph construction and showing an increase in critical thinking.  When dealing with literature in this phase students are not just recounting the facts of a story, but they are analyzing the characters and plot, discussing the moral choices that were made.

The last stage of the Trivium is the Rhetoric stage.  This is where all the learning comes together and the student learns to write and speak with clarity and forcefulness.  Rhetoric is a step beyond the logic stage, this is where the last two stages find their culmination.  At this point in a students development he should be able to take facts, analyze them, come to conclusions, see interconnections and then be able to express his views in a logical, well-thought out, elegant way.

One unique aspect of the classical method is that it is based on the written word.  There is very little room here for videos, or educational computer games.  The child is expected to interact with the written word in a meaningful way…this in turn will strengthen and train his mind for more rigorous disciplines and thinking.

Another emphasis is that all knowledge is interrelated.  Science, history, philosophy, mathematics…they are all related, and a development in one field inevitable spills over and affects another.  Being able to recognize there interconnections is an emphasis in the Classical approach.

As I said above, this approach became popular during the Middle Ages.  During that time there was a resurgence of interest in the classic civilizations of Greece and Rome.  Scholars were expected to study not just Latin and Greek, but also the histories and literature from that period.  The art and architecture of these civilizations became the new standard and there was an almost sacred reverence for anything thought to be from this era.  Because of this many who embrace this method also stress learning Latin, (and to a lesser degree Greek) and reading the ancient writers works.  There is much to recommend this approach as much of our language has come from Latin and Greek,and our ideas, history, and government finds it’s roots in these ancient cultures.

In one approach, outlined in The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer, it is suggested that children follow a four year course that is repeated three times.  On each cycle the child moves on to the next stage of development.  Here is a quick look at how this would work taken from The Well Trained Mind, website.

We suggest that the twelve years of education consist of three repetitions of the same four-year pattern: Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern Times. The child studies these four time periods at varying levels — simple for grades 1-4, more difficult in grades 5-8 (when the student begins to read original sources), and taking an even more complex approach in grades 9-12, when the student works through these time periods using original sources (from Homer to Hitler) and also has the opportunity to pursue a particular interest (music, dance, technology, medicine, biology, creative writing) in depth.
The other subject areas of the curriculum are linked to history studies. The student who is working on ancient history will read Greek and Roman mythology, the tales of the Iliad and Odyssey, early medieval writings, Chinese and Japanese fairy tales, and (for the older student) the classical texts of Plato, Herodutus, Virgil, Aristotle. She’ll read Beowulf, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare the following year, when she’s studying medieval and early Renaissance history. When the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are studied, she starts with Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) and ends with Dickens; finally, she reads modern literature as she is studying modern history.
The sciences are studied in a four-year pattern that roughly corresponds to the periods of scientific discovery: biology, classification and the human body (subjects known to the ancients); earth science and basic astronomy (which flowered during the early Renaissance); chemistry (which came into its own during the early modern period); and then basic physics and computer science (very modern subjects).
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 student progresses in maturity and learning. For example, a first grader listens 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 Roger Lancelyn Greene’s Tales of Troy. Four more years go by, and the ninth grader — faced with the Iliad itself — plunges right in, undaunted.

So if you are interested in further pursuing this method here are some books and resources you can use.  (Keep in mind, most of these authors have websites where you can continue to hear what they are writing and thinking about in between books.)

The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jesse Wise.  (Ms. Bauer has several books and a very helpful website.)

The Case for Classical Christian Education by Douglas Wilson (Again, he has many helpful books including, Rediscovering The Lost Tools of Learning.)

To view curriculum that is focused on the Classical Method I would recommend visiting Veritas Press which has some excellent materials.

June 18, 2009

The Charlotte Mason Method

The Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling is another popular option. This method has a solid educational philosophy behind it’s implementation and taking the time to research and understand it’s underpinnings will be time well spent. See the book list at the end of this article.

Charlotte Mason was an English educator who lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. She was able to put her educational theories into practice in her own schools. Her approach was three-pronged…atmosphere, discipline, and life. She also believed parents were one of the crucial elements in a child’s success. As I explain her understanding of these three-prongs you will see why she thought parents were primary and the schools secondary in the educational development of children.

First, atmosphere. She observed that children absorb what is around them. For instance, if parents read good books to their children on a regular basis children will absorb correct grammar, vocabulary, and speech patterns without any effort on their part. By using this simple fact parents have a powerful tool at their disposal. If the atmosphere of the home is calm and loving…children will absorb that. If parents are critical and there is always stress in the air…children will absorb that. As parents and educators we need to be intentional about the atmosphere we raise and educate our children in.

Second, discipline. By discipline Charlotte Mason was largely referring to the need to develop good habits within the child. Our children will develop habits…good or bad. How much simpler will their lives be if they have developed good ones that require no thought and are just a part of their person. She would have children acquire the habit of paying full attention to whatever task they are at, to being observant of the natural world, and of caring for themselves and their belongings. Much of her teaching on habits is about the moral character of a child. How easy is it for our children to fall into the habit of being quarrelsome or critical. Would it be just as easy to train your child to a habit of cheerfulness and generosity. “The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days.” Mason

Third, life. Whenever possible Charlotte Mason wanted real life experiences to overlap with a child’s learning. Because of this, at her schools, formal instruction only lasted for the morning. The afternoons were reserved for nature walks, art projects, and other real life learning.

One of the cornerstones of Charlotte Masons approach is the use of ‘living books’. Believing that most children’s literature is ‘twaddle’ Charlotte Mason implored parents and educators to give more thought to children’s books. If you have been in a bookstore recently you will see what she meant. Many children’s books talk down to the child as if they are not intelligent beings capable of thought. Textbooks are summaries and predigested thoughts for the child to memorize…they do not engage their minds in any meaningful way. Instead she encourages parents to choose books that inspire children to think, to aspire to be better, and to fill their minds with new ideas. In other words, to search for books that ‘live’. Believing that when we spread before children a rich feast of ideas they will blossom she sought out ways to introduce them to the best and the brightest. She believed that children who were continually fed ‘twaddle’ would come to despise books and education seeing that it has nothing of interest to say to them.

Instead of quizzes and tests this approach makes use of narration. Narration is simply, telling back. For an early elementary school student it would look like this. Carly listens to her mother read to her the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis. When she is done Carly tells her back all she remembers. This will include her impressions questions etc. That’s it. From this interchange her mother knows that she has ‘comprehended’ and that she has taken from the story what is appropriate for her. In this sense Carly leads the lesson. Her mom doesn’t have a summary point that Carly needs to take away from the lesson. She lets the story speak directly to Carly without interference. A few years later Carly’s narration might be in the form of a drawing with a written summary, and a few years after that a well-thought out essay.

Spelling, grammar, and vocabulary are not taught with lists to be memorized and exercises to be copied. Instead dictation is used. Depending on the age of the student a selection a literature is chosen to be studied. After a period of study the child has the selection dictated to them…then they compare to the original. Were there words they had trouble spelling, they will work on those to do better next time. Did they use the quotation marks correctly…a quick review of the punctuation might be needed. As the child advances he will be given dictation without first viewing the selection and then make comparisons.

Nature Study is an integral part of Charlotte Masons approach and she encouraged students to keep Nature journals where they could record what they were observing. These journals were meant to be beautiful as well as informative. One page might have a careful drawing of the grasshopper the child observed…and the next a poem written or copied that reflected the season.

History is studied through the use of living books. Biographies, Autobiographies, historical fiction, and well done non-fiction books are read independently and aloud.

Math studies rely heavily on the use of manipulatives. The goal is to have the child understand the concept before doing any paper and pencil work with equations. This assured the teacher that the child truly understood and wasn’t just parroting back memorized facts.

Art, Music, Shakespeare, and Hymns were also studied in the same relaxed fashion. An introduction was made and the child was free to explore and take in what spoke to them. In this fashion they were introduced to the great men and women of centuries past and were able to better understand their place within their own time.

Before we leave Charlotte Mason let me leave you with a few of her quotes on the importance of instilling courtesy into our children.

Courtesy seems a small thing until we encounter rudeness.”

Children learn courtesy by living in a courteous environment and by simple coaching.”

Do not allow a child to be discourteous just because a person is familiar.”

Let the young child feel that the omission of courtesy and kindness causes pain to loving hearts, that the doing of them is as cheering as the sunshine.”

Books on the Charlotte Mason Method

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer McCauley

The Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola

A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison

When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today by Elaine Cooper, Eve Anderson, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, and Jack Beckman

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