One of the very first books I read before embarking on this homeschool adventure was The Well-Trained Mind, a well-known tome that touts the benefits of a classical education and outlines a course of study from bitty littles to graduating seniors.
This is where the idea that there are particular stages of intellectual development that coincide with particular ages is endorsed.
The emphasis is on memorization of pegs to hand new knowledge upon.
The focus is on fine literature and history.
The goal is provide a rich learning environment that builds great minds.
Not minds that think alike (this isn’t aimed at a particular worldview), but minds that think.
There’s a vibrant and varied community of homeschoolers that follow (or are at least influenced by) this particular classical model of education. I say particular because there are other models of classical education---one might even say that WTM is not strictly based upon an historically classical education. Some day I may (nah, I probably won’t, but you never know) write a commentary on WTM point-by-point based upon my (admittedly limited and anecdotal) research and real life experience in the realm of learning. Yeah, I think entirely too much about this stuff.
But this post isn’t meant to be about classical education in general or the pros and cons of the various approaches to it.
This post is about why I dumped the 4-year history rotation.
Way back when we took our oldest out of school for 2nd grade, I admit that my choices for educating him were influenced by what had gone before. The Catholic school he was attending (K-8) taught the pilgrims every November in every grade---or at least it seemed so based upon their monthly “news” updates.
There were other things that seemed to be done to death. I wanted my son to have a wider and deeper exposure to the world.
So we started with ancient world history. It was a good year. Making cuneiform seals was fun. Pyramids were fun. There’s a strong mythological component to early history that appeals to young children.
Medieval times was harder. There was still some of the fairytale quality, but there’s also more hard information as you get closer and closer to modern times. I found myself cleaning things up and skipping over bits that weren’t quite appropriate for young ears.
But here’s the thing---to my kids, these historical happenings were nothing more than stories. The retention for those things that we’d spent so much time learning about about (and that I had spent so much time planning and amassing materials for) just wasn’t there.
My now 14-year-old only has very vague recollections of what we were learning in history when he was 8. Very vague. His younger sister’s remembering is, understandably, even more vague.
I’m not saying that what we did wasn’t of value, BUT…if I had it to do over with from the beginning, my approach would have been very different.
It probably would have been more like my approach with my two youngest kids now, which is very grounded in the here and now. Although we do learn about the past and different cultures, that is not our primary focus.
Not to start a fight or anything---I think starting a chronological history with my kids from the beginning was misguided.
A young child needs a concrete framework upon which to build her knowledge. Learning about pyramids in Egypt is cool. Building them might be fun. Seeing videos helps.
Learning about more exotic things is exciting, adventurous, and shows her that there is a world outside of her immediate sensory domain---it’s worthwhile and part of a rich education.
We want our children to know that the world is bigger than them, right?
But the fact remains that the Egyptian pyramids are halfway around the world from us and not something she is likely to see in person anytime soon.
A small child’s reality is what surrounds her every day. It’s you, her family, her home, her backyard, her street, the library she goes to, the friends she sees at the playground, the things she can see, touch, hear, taste, and smell. The bigger world is a phantom, a fairytale.
Some day she will know it is more than that, but unless you are a seasoned world traveler (and have a TARIS in your basement), I think you’ll agree that no matter how much we learn about the past and other cultures through books, videos, and hands on activities, our ability to know them is limited.
As a child matures developmentally, she becomes more intellectually capable of recognizing and understanding things outside of her everyday experience. But her framework for hanging that information on is (like it or not) the concrete reality that surrounds her in the here and now.
So don’t spend too much of your time learning about thousands of years ago, when there is a lifetime of learning right here and now.
Learn from my mistakes. They are not horrible, education-destroying mistakes, mind you. It’s more about wasted energy and unnecessary frustration for Mom.
Exposing my younger kids to different cultures and time periods is still a good thing, it just isn’t my primary focus in the “social studies” department right now. Instead of beginning at the beginning, we work our way out from where we are, right now.
It’s a little like reading a map---it makes no sense to start at the far north-east corner. Where you are going is always seen in relation to where you are starting from.
So, tell me: Have you had any big realizations that drastically changed the way you homeschool?