Questions Homeschoolers Ask
1. Most classical schools are using Shurley Grammar. Why don’t you recommend it for home use in The Well-Trained Mind?
Susan reviewed the Shurley Grammar curriculum while choosing resources for the language chapters of The Well-Trained Mind. Shurley is a good grammar program! It is thorough, complete, and drill-oriented. However, in the end we decided to recommend other grammar workbooks because Shurley is essentially a classroom curriculum. It is fairly expensive because it includes a number of aids which are helpful in the classroom, but which home schoolers don’t necessarily need. If you already have the Shurley program, you can use it with confidence. But the other programs we recommend seem to be simpler and more affordable.
2. Why have you divided the grades for the three stages of a classical education differently from the way Dorothy Sayers divides them in “The Lost Tools of Learning”?
Sayers’ essay (which you can read here or in the appendix of Doug Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning) discusses the three stages of classical learning (Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric) within the context of the English school system. Her Grammar stage begins later than ours, and each stage occupies 2-3 years instead of the 4 years we recommend. Since we deal with American school systems and American testing, we recommend matching the three stages of classical education to the American structure of elementary, middle, and high school. This also gives the parent an extra year or two to teach each stage, which allows home schoolers more time to experiment, read, take field trips, and tutor other children. (Also see our longer essay, Why Our Model of Classical Education May Look Different.)
3. I could spend ten hours a day on the classical curriculum! How will I cover all the work I need to be doing?
When you’re teaching young children, don’t try to cover a set amount of material per day (or per week). Rather, allot a reasonable amount of time for each subject. Spend that much time on the subject. Then stop until the next day! Children grasp some skills quickly, but take much more time to master others. If you try to go by lessons, you may end up spending a frustrating two hours on spelling one day, and perhaps ten minutes another day. For kindergarten, an hour of instruction time (total) per day is more than enough, and we suggest that you concentrate this time on reading and writing skills. First and second graders should be spending 3-4 hours per day in school work. Third and fourth graders can spend 4-5 hours per day, depending on maturity.
Once you move into middle school, it is better to set the student a particular goal to cover; otherwise, since you’re supervising less, it’s easy for the child to dawdle. But if your middle school child is spending 5-6 hours per day on schoolwork, that’s more than enough. You will never learn everything there is to know! And always prioritize math and language skills. History and science are dependent on these skills.
4. What do you think of “better late than early”?
If you intend to send a young child to an institution to be taught in a group of children, “better late than early” is a good principle to follow! But when the child is in a supportive home environment, taught by parents patiently and systematically without pressure, education is better started early. Learning is exponential as children connect new knowledge and skills to what they have already mastered. Jessie feels strongly that it is wrong to wait until a child is eight or older to start formally teaching him at home. Early readers have the advantage in education from the beginning. They have confidence in their abilities. They enjoy discovering new and interesting things through independent reading. And they develop speed and increased comprehension during these early years. Since they are not struggling with reading skills at age 9 (third grade), they can begin the study of Latin, which is another leap into understanding vocabulary and the structure of language. They are able to work on their science and history with more independence. Ironically, this will eventually be easier on the parent than the “easy way” of not teaching a child to read until he is eight or older.
5. What about teaching according to learning styles? How does that fit with classical education?
Much work has been done suggesting that children learn in three ways: auditory, visual, and spatial. You can always use a child’s strengths when learning content is the goal (for example, math facts set to music for a child who learns easily with music, or the Declaration of Independence read onto a tape and listened to repeatedly). BUT you continue to teach to weakness in order to increase the child’s ability to use all the tools of learning. If you have a natural spatial learner, you should continue to teach visually as well. Your long-time goal is to give the child valuable skills that may not be in his “natural abilities,” but that will help him to reach academic and professional goals.
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