History Through the Ages

It’s time to answer another reader’s question! This question is about history–what we called social studies when we were kids. I don’t know what passes for social studies in schools these days; I’m more interested in the actual facts. Classical education, which our family has embraced since we started our homeschooling journey, espouses studying history chronologically from the beginning and studying it all the way through consecutively.

The most popular way to incorporate a linear study of history is to complete three four-year cycles, beginning in first grade: ancient, medieval, early modern, modern. Another popular curriculum does a five-year cycle from second through sixth grades, then two two-year cycles in junior high and high school. The length of time spent in each historical period doesn’t really matter. What matters is covering each major period several times throughout the homeschooling process (assuming you’re homeschooling all the way through). Each time a history period is covered, more details will pop out, more in-depth discussion will occur, and more work will be required of the student. The student will gain a deeper, richer knowledge of history’s parallels and applications each time through each segment.

Since many homeschooling families have more than one child, let’s talk about how to utilize this method without teaching all of the time periods at the same time and without driving yourself crazy. The first child gets to start ancient history in first grade. The next child, when she hits first grade, joins child number one wherever he is in the cycle, and so on. Yes, that means that not all of the children will start with ancient history. But that’s ok—really! Eventually, child number two (and subsequent children who did not start with ancient history) will catch up and travel through history from beginning to end more than once.

As much as I love American history, I don’t want to teach it every year to my kids; furthermore, they don’t want to learn it every year! Chances are, your kids don’t either.

Q4U: What’s your homeschooling or organizing question? What would you like to see answered by me here on my blog?



How to Mesh Unit Studies With Classical Education

Love the idea of unit studies? Fascinated by classical education? Think the two are mutually exclusive? I’d like to propose that they are compatible. Let’s just briefly review classical education and unit studies to make sure that we’re on the same page as far as basic definitions go. 
“Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium” (Susan Wise Bauer, www.TheWellTrainedMind.com).
Unit studies take one topic and study it intensely and almost exclusively for a period. They encompass social studies, science, and perhaps English (in the form of compositions), although skills such as math and grammar need to be studied separately and incrementally. The danger of completing unit studies without a plan is that there will be gaps in your children’s education. It’s like going to Golden Corral or Old Country Buffet and loading your plate with macaroni and cheese, pizza, and garlic bread, with no vegetables or protein. Once in a while is fine, but a steady diet of only carbohydrates will ruin your figure and your energy levels. But, there are so many valuable, fun unit studies available that it seems a shame to bypass them.
So, how do we mesh the two? Well, since classical education studies history chronologically, we can build unit studies around specific historical periods. We can read living books, make timelines, study science, write essays, and complete other projects that go along with it.
For instance, say we’re studying 1900­–1920. We can check out a plethora of books at the library based on our children’s reading levels and interests. That covers literature and history. We can study the science of flying with a unit study on the Wright brothers. We can listen to jazz for music studies and check out Expressionism, Fauvism, or cubism for art studies. Of course, World War I falls during that time as well and can be studied with as much depth as you wish. That would be an appropriate place to bring in international studies and perhaps even international politics for older students.
Of course, for math we’ve got to pretty much stick with whatever curriculum is currently working for our children. The same thing with grammar, but for writing, we can have our children choose topics based on what they’ve been reading in their living books, or studying in history, or science. No need to make up artificial, boring writing prompts.
Here’s what a typical four-year cycle would look like:
Year / Subject
Historical Period
Music and Art
Year One
Pre-Baroque and Baroque
Year Two
Year Three
Early Modern
Year Four
(Credit goes to Susan Wise Bauer for the basic idea above, although I’ve tweaked it some.)
These science, music and art studies roughly correlate with what the scientists of the day were studying and discovering. After cycling through each of the time periods, we would simply start over again, adjusting the level of reading and studying for each child’s education level and interests.
Many, many unit studies are available that can be worked into this scheme. By the time you cycle through a particular period again, your children’s interests and educational levels will have advanced to different topics for unit studies. Enjoy!
The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer http://www.thewelltrainedmind.com, Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn https://www.triviumpursuit.com/, Memoria Press http://www.memoriapress.com, Veritas Press http://www.veritaspress.com, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson, The Core by Leigh A. Bortins, Download-n-Go Unit Studies from The Old Schoolhouse Store http://www.theoldschoolhousestore.com, Amanda Bennett’s unit study information http://www.unitstudy.com/.

This article is posted over at Heart of the Matter Online today.


The Core (review)

The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins, founder of Classical Conversations, shows how non-classically educated parents can give their children what they weren’t taught themselves. This book is not just for homeschoolers. Bortins doesn’t just show what’s wrong with education today, she gives a blueprint for fixing it. She gives concrete reasons we all need a classical education: we need to train our brains, and the classical model will restore memorization, analytical, and communication skills.

Bortins tells how parents can utilize time-proven methods in each subject area. Real-life examples that any parent can use with any age child make The Core reader friendly. In addition, the “Schedules and Resources for Classical Education” makes this book even more practical. Just in case the “What’s Wrong with Education Today” chapter didn’t convince you that any parent with school-age children should read this book, the epilogue is entitled “How a Classical Education Gives Us Skills We Need as Adults.” That’s right; a solid classical education is not just for children. The Core is an easy read on a challenging subject—two thumbs up.

Purchase your copy from McMillan for only $16.00.

Disclosure: I received the book mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Classical Education Curricula

I’ve been quite a few questions regarding what material I use for classical homeschooling and how it actually works. So, I thought I’d list out what we have used and how we made it work. I realize that theories sound good (or intimidating, as the case may be), but how they work in real life tends to be a bit different!

Before I get into what we use and how we use it, I just want to let you all know that I did not receive a classical education myself. In fact, the ultra-strict high school I attended did not have a single “secular” book on the booklist—ever (although I’ve heard that that has changed in recent years). Yes, I read a few classics, but they were on my own. I do have a college degree and I did read a few classics while in college, but it was a far cry from the extensive lists described by most classical educationists. Furthermore, I waltzed through 2 years of high school Spanish and can barely say “Hola” now. I took Greek for 2 semesters in college, but again, I can just recognize the alphabet now. No Latin. My parents probably think I’ve never had a logical thought in my brain, and I didn’t know what rhetoric was until I started homeschooling. All this to say that if I can provide my children with a classical education, you can, too! And, lest any of you think that I have it all together and that my children are receiving a textbook classical education, I don’t and they’re not.

Okay, here’s my elementary list: For preschool, kindergarten, and 1st grade I did not do anything classical. We used a phonics program I picked up at a yard sale and different math workbooks with manipulatives (my faves: Cuisenaire rods and linking cubes with their respective workbooks). We also did Five in a Row with the Bible supplement, which I highly recommend. For 2nd through 6th grades, we used the Veritas Press Bible and history cards, VP literature guides, Shurley Grammar (love, love, love!), Saxon Math (through 4th grade) then Math-U-See, A Reason for Handwriting, Building Spelling Skills (from Christian Liberty Press—these 2 resources are cheap!), Apologia Elementary Science (most years), and 1 year of Considering God’s Creation (from Eagle’s Wings).

Using Veritas Press history and Bible for 5 consecutive years gave us a solid foundation in both subjects, as well as the continuity espoused by classical educators. See my list of links below for other classical curricula that will produce similar results.

Did you notice that I didn’t list the biggie, Latin? Here’s my true confession: we have used 4 different Latin curricula! Just fyi, I would NOT advise doing it that way. We started off in 3rd grade, which is the age recommended by many educators, using Latina Christiana by Memoria Press. After several years (or maybe for my 2nd child, I can’t remember), we switched to the Latin Primer series by Canon Press. I think we liked it better as it was a little easier to understand and work through. Last year, I was sent First Form Latin, also by Memoria Press, to review. We’re using it this year and I really like it. Their plan is to add several more years to the curriculum to make it usable throughout the elementary years. First Form Latin had the best teacher’s manual, but all of these curricula were designed for moms without previous Latin experience. They live up to their promises as long as you spend time every week reviewing the concepts and vocabulary along with your children. For middle school, my oldest daughter and I worked through Learn to Read Latin, a college level textbook from Yale University Press. I would only recommend that if you are willing to put in many hours yourself working through it.

How did we make Latin work? Teacher’s manuals and listening CDs! What ages/grade levels did we do it? We started in 3rd grade and my eldest finished at the end of 9th grade. She has moved onto French for her modern language high school credit (I also gave her Latin credits, but that’s another subject). My youngest has begged to be allowed to take Spanish next year (when she will be in 7th grade). I’ve decided to let her, but she’ll be taking Spanish all through high school as well to make sure she has enough credits on her transcript. I’m undecided about having her work through a Latin roots course as well to boost her vocabulary. Personally, I would recommend only learning 1 language at a time, but if you feel strongly that you’d like to try 2, go for it and see how it works.

For middle school logic and rhetoric, check out curricula written by and recommended by Veritas Press, Memoria Press, and Logos Press. Yep, we’re making those work, too. Again, we’ve used DVD lessons and teacher’s manuals. Plus, I’ve had to be a student myself, which isn’t such a bad thing (except when I trying to understand molecular chemistry at 1 a.m. because that’s the only time I have to read it!).

We moved onto Veritas Press’s Omnibus curriculum in middle school (for my oldest, it will be high school for my youngest, although they now have 6 years’ worth of curricula). It’s 1 textbook that integrates history, theology, and literature using the great books of western civilization. It’s intense, but well worth the time. You’ll learn how to have Socratic dialogues with your children and figure out what they really think on a wide range of topics. We like Sonlight, too, although they are not strictly classical.

How do we make memory recitations not boring? Good question! Veritas Press Bible and History and Shurley English all have CDs with memory songs and/or chants. Some of the Latin curricula do as well. When my kids were younger, they enjoyed listening to the CDs in their rooms and dancing around and singing/chanting along. Sadly, I’ve yet to discover how to get a 6th grader to enjoy them! You could play the CDs while your kids color fun pictures; have them make up their own choreography; have a contest to see who can make up the most creative chant, or whatever. They could even recite Latin forms or grammar jingles while doing jump rope (instead of Miss Mary Mack). You could give small prizes to your children when they memorize certain things as an incentive. The thing is that drill is very important to memorization. Young children love to chant stuff over and over again, that’s what makes drills at this age generally successful.

For adding in all the “extras” that make up a well-rounded education, such as classical music and opera appreciation, fine art appreciation, elocution, nature stories, character-building stories, and more, I highly recommend The Tutor, by Codex Publishing. (Disclaimer, I am part owner of this company.) All of the resources, including the fine art prints and music CDs, are incorporated in each volume.

The best all-inclusive book for helping you to figure out how to educate your children classically is The Well-Trained Mind, by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. Classical education is less about the actual curricula used and more about the methods employed. Below is a partial list of classical education Web sites to peruse. An Internet search will produce many more results, and I’m sure I’ve missed some other sites that I’ve found helpful over the years. These should get you started, though.

Veritas Press

The Well-Trained Mind (including the Story of the World series)

Memoria Press

Trivium Pursuit

Canon Press

Codex Publishing

Logos Press

Q4U: Do you use a classical curriculum that I didn’t list? Do you have another favorite classical education Web site that I missed? Please share! I know I’ve missed some good stuff. Also, feel free to ask more questions. After all, that makes it easy for me to think of blog topics and I love helping others.


Why Study Latin, Greek, or Ancient History?

Latin?! Yikes! If the trivium didn’t scare people off, Latin and Greek usually do. These reasons came from the “Why Study Latin & Greek?” The Classical Teacher, by Andrew Campbell, Summer 2007, (a publication of Memoria Press). I agree wholeheartedly, but he just stated the arguments much more eloquently, so these are pretty much in his words.

The practical arguments for studying classical languages are these: they increase English vocabulary, they aid in understanding our crazy English grammar, Latin is the key to modern languages, studying Latin increases standardized test scores, and some careers require knowledge of them. Those all sound like pretty good reasons to study Latin to me!

But wait, there’s more. Here are the cultural reasons for studying Latin (and Greek): knowledge of the classics increases cultural literacy, classical history is YOUR history, and, believe it or not, the cultural experience of the ancient world is relevant to us today. You know the old saying “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

As if those arguments weren’t enough, Campbell presents three formative arguments for studying classical languages and curriculum: they impart exceptional intellectual discipline, they inspire moral insight and virtue, and they form aesthetic judgment.

Wow. Those are some pretty compelling arguments.

The question is how can a parent who never had Latin or Greek teach those languages to her children? It is possible! Check out the great variety of curricula that’s written specifically for parents to learn with their children. Some are textbooks and teacher’s manuals, some are computer programs. The writers of these curricula realize that many parents desire more for their children than they received as students themselves. I will list Latin and Greek curricula along with many other classical homeschooling resources in an upcoming post.

So, what do we do? We have worked on Latin for a combined total of nine years (three of those years were overlapping). To answer your next question, no, I had no prior knowledge of Latin. It has worked! I did have a bit of an advantage, though, in that my father teaches Latin and was able to help us along some (thank goodness for Skype!).

I did, however, take a year of Greek in college. While we chose not to study Greek in our homeschool, we did study ancient Grecian history. What do I remember of the Greek I took in college? Honestly, not much, because I never made the effort to use it again. If I had applied myself and kept reading and studying it, I’m sure that I could still use it today.

Q4U: How can you and your family incorporate Latin and/or Greek if you have never learned it previously?

Disclosure: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Christian Classical Education Defined

Wait! Before you all bury your heads in the sand and run screaming in the other direction, let’s look at what a classical education actually encompasses. I think you’ll discover that it’s not as scary as you thought it was and that it’s the type of education you really want your children to have by the time they graduate from your homeschool. “Classical education is about equipping children for the future with what has been successful in the past” (Classical and Christian Education, Gregg Strawbridge). In other words, it’s the antithesis of this new-fangled math that confounds all of us parents. It trains the mind to learn. It is academically rigorous, well-rounded, comprehensive, and can be used from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation and beyond. It emphasizes languages, structure, living books, the chronological study of history, and excellence. Classical education dispenses with the fluff to cut straight to the heart of the matter.

That all sounds good to me. I want my kids to have that kind of an education; what about y’all?

Take a deep breath. Here comes that ubiquitous word that seems sends people cowering: the trivium. It’s not that scary, really. The word trivium is even in my dictionary (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition), “A group of studies consisting of grammar, logic, and rhetoric and forming the lower division of the seven liberal arts in medieval universities” (and is completed by the quadrivium). These three stages are the grammar stage, which is roughly equivalent to the elementary ages; the dialectic stage, which is comparative to the middle school or junior high school years; and the rhetoric stage, which encompasses the high school years. Notice that these are stages, not cut-and-dried ages.

To borrow from Strawbridge again, these three stages suggest an approach to learning. The grammar stage approach emphasizes knowledge mastery and basic facts. This is the age when children delight in memorizing long lists of facts and then spouting them off at every opportunity. Classical education provides children with information (Latin vocabulary words, history dates, spelling words, scientific facts, etc.) to memorize that they can pull out of their memory banks later when they are trying to synthesize what they know.

The dialectic or logic stage teaches preteens to do well what they naturally want to do at that age anyway: argue. The approaches utilized during this stage are principle comprehension and the capacity to reason. Classical education helps children to think more analytically and logically. Students are taught to evaluate statements for logic and truth.

The rhetoric stage approach emphasizes expression and application. Classical education here seeks to teach students to take all of the facts that they learned during the grammar stage and to synthesize them, make sense out of them (the logic stage), and to present them in a pleasing, sensible format. Teens learn to form opinions intelligently.

Dorothy Sayers, in her epic 1947 essay The Lost Tools of Learning, laments the loss of good education in public schools. I am quite sure that the overall quality of public school educations has not improved in the sixty plus years since then. The lost tools are the subjects that build a solid, educational foundation.

These days, people are all about handing the school reins over to the children. I’ve overheard comments such as, “Well, they’ll be more into school if they get to study whatever they want.” Nonsense! How can children decide what they need to study when they don’t even know what they need to know? If it were up to my girls, there would not be a single math textbook in our house. One can’t get by in the world without knowing some basic math facts (although I have my doubts about the necessity of Algebra 2!). Many questions and areas of study require systematic instruction. That just doesn’t happen when one skips from topic to topic. History happened chronologically; doesn’t it make sense to study it chronologically? How else would one know whether the Civil War happened before or after the Spanish-American War?

So, how does an education go from being simply classical to being Christian classical? It studies the Bible and its history right along with the history of ancient Rome and ancient Greece. It uses the Bible as its foundation for truth. It forms its worldview from a biblical basis.

All of this makes sense to me. Does it make sense to you? Let me know your thoughts, please!

Disclosure: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Our Christian Classical Homeschooling Journey

Several of you have asked, so here it is: the story behind our homeschool. This is the short version. In the coming weeks, I plan to write more about Christian classical homeschooling and how our family makes it work.

I’d never heard of homeschooling until several years after my children were born. When my oldest was just 3, we moved to a new town and the small church we attended had 5 or 6 homeschooling families. The other moms nurtured me along, lent me books, and invited me to homeschooling outings and events until it seemed the most natural thing to teach my oldest how to read. By then, my husband and I, through much prayer and thought, decided that God was calling us to homeschool. My parents (a pastor) were all for it. My husband’s family thought we were going to permanently damage our children.

Very early on, I received a copy of the Veritas Press catalog with several articles about Christian classical homeschooling. Then I read The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer & Jessie Bauer. The methodicalness and orderliness of classical homeschooling attracted me at first, then I realized how much it made sense to study historically and how many benefits would be gained by learning Latin and studying logic. We enjoy discussing worldviews from a biblical perspective and watching God’s hand work through history. I also liked that I could do some things my own way (cheap and easy spelling and handwriting booklets, skipping some books I didn’t like, and throwing in plenty of fun activities), but yet have a framework to follow. Ten years later, we still homeschool classically, and I still do it my own way.

We used mostly Veritas Press materials for the first 8 or 9 years, but have branched off somewhat in the past year or two. My first child is my guinea pig; my second child definitely gets the better end of the deal (I’m more relaxed!). My favorite grammar program is Shurley English, and we’ve always used Apologia Science. We’ve gone through several different math programs, but are currently using Math-U-See. My 10th grader’s favorite class this year is the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum.

High school has been a challenge, but I can’t imagine sending my girls to school. We are, however, going to try to take advantage of a few dual-enrollment classes at our local community college next year. Our homeschooling journey has had its ups and downs, but perseverance to God’s calling for our family is the key.

Q4U: Leave me a short message on how/why your family started homeschooling. I love reading others’ stories!


Calling All Classical Homeschoolers!

Calling all classical homeschoolers! If you’re looking for a painless way to integrate the pillars of classical education—Latin, logic, and rhetoric—into your homeschool, look no further than Memoria Press. No Latin background? No problem! First Form Latin is a unique, non-threatening introduction to Latin. Traditional Logic I will ease middle school students into the logic years smoothly. Tenth through twelfth graders need to learn to tie everything together and how to present themselves and their ideals clearly, whether writing or speaking. Classical Rhetoric will help them prepare to write essays and give speeches that are college-worthy.

First Form Latin (geared towards students fifth grade and up) is a brand new, revolutionary Latin program. It teaches the grammar of Latin systematically, not topically. This helps the student understand and retain the information better, and really makes more sense. Copious, but not onerous, exercises guarantee mastery. My favorite feature is the Teacher’s Guide, which is in a binder for easy access to the clear, step-by-step lesson plans, drill sheets (reproducible), vocabulary drill sheets (also reproducible), and all the answer keys. Creative ideas make light work out of the drudgery of necessary repetitiveness. The Teacher’s Guide also helps with general lesson planning and additional information to help you understand the language better. The student textbook and workbook are separate so the textbook can be open for easy reference while the student completes the workbook exercises. Students will learn well-known and some more obscure Latin sayings and the stories behind them. Proper pronunciation and inflection are taught from the very beginning. I have never seen another more thorough, easy-to-understand, beginning Latin program—and I’ve used three or four others.

Traditional Logic 1 is much easier to understand and more user-friendly than other logic texts I have seen. My ninth grader could easily grasp the concepts without watching the DVD lessons, but she thought that younger students would appreciate being led through the lessons by a teacher. Here is your introduction to formal logic and better test scores. This is the way to help your students learn to think for themselves. The textbook is written to the students for independent learning, has many clear examples and nifty diagrams, and written exercises to reinforce the concepts. The student book, answer key, and DVD set is $68.95 (also available separately).

Classical Rhetoric (student book, $39.95 and answer key, $4.95) is a “guided tour through the first part of the greatest single book on communication ever written.” You’ve taught your children what they need to know (the grammar stage); you’ve taught them to think logically and critically through various worldviews (the logic stage); now it’s time to teach them how to communicate their beliefs clearly and concisely. It’s time to teach them rhetoric. While I feel comfortable writing myself, I didn’t feel comfortable teaching rhetoric. Memoria Press to the rescue! The textbook is written to the students on their level with many concrete examples to help them internalize the ideas. Don’t worry, the answer key will help you make sure your students stay on track even if you aren’t familiar with rhetoric. The main text is The Rhetoric and Poetics of Aristotle ($13.75). How to Read a Book ($15) is one of the recommended books. It’s an organized, systematic method of the art of reading, understanding, and retaining books. You can see from the text exactly how to use the examples. It’s so good that I’m making my daughter go through it two years in a row! Your children will be well-prepared to read and study college textbooks after learning from this book! Another recommended book is Figures of Speech ($16). It is full of clever witticisms and well-known examples from classic literature—analyzed and integrated into the program.


The Tutor Review

How do I make sure my children are getting a well-rounded education? Where can I find all the extras that were once standards in a complete education without cluttering my bookshelf and depleting my wallet? The answer to these questions and many more is The Tutor.

The Tutor promises to be a tool to provide “a richer and fuller education experience for [your] children.” It focuses on art, music, geography, classic literature, elocution and more. Every quarterly issue is packed with a wide variety of subjects in each category. Some sections concentrate on one theme (like ants in the Nature section of Volume 1), while other segments have different topics.

But, you may wonder, how many trips to the library will I need to make in order to find the music resources and art prints recommended in The Tutor? None! Your purchase of The Tutor includes two CDs containing all of the referenced music (full-length pieces, not just samples) and six full-color art prints on nice paper by the featured artist.

The Tutor is not dated and not a rigid curriculum. A plethora of information (nearly 200 pages) makes it useful for as long as you wish, although four issues are published each year. Spiral bound books with sticky-finger-proof covers will last for years to come and all age groups will find something useful.

What’s not to like? Nothing. So far we’ve dabbled in the art, music and literature sections and are really looking forward to diving in deeper into other topics. The only thing that would make The Tutor more user friendly is the addition of a more detailed index for easier referencing.

How can you get The Tutor? Check out The Home Educator Tutor Web site. Each issue of The Tutor costs $24.95 (plus s/h). If you prefer to download it, the cost is $15 and includes the art prints, but not the music. The music is available to purchase for downloading separately, though. The bottom line is that The Tutor is worth every penny, just like your children’s education.