Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Homeschooling: A Retrospective {Part 1}

The summer when I was seven, my parents decided to pull me out of school. I didn't go back to Geneva Elementary for second grade, and instead I stayed home with my dad and my little sister, who was in a local Waldorf preschool at the time. This move to homeschooling completely changed my life. It is not an exaggeration to say that I have absolutely no idea who I would be today if I hadn't been homeschooled.

The Early Years

My mom was skeptical about homeschooling, and for good reason. She worked full time, and she was worried about having the time and energy to make it work. But she started researching got excited, and found a way to make it work. For most of my homeschooling career, we did school every evening after dinner. She would leave "homework" to be done during the day while she was at work (things like spelling, grammar, math), and in the evenings we would work on things like History and Science. 

Philosophy 

My mom, in her research, discovered the classical method of homeschooling. We became disciples of Susan Wise Bauer, and her book, The Well Trained Mind. If you're not familiar with the classical method, it's a system of education based on cycles and repetition. 

It has three main stages, the Grammar stage (1st-4th grades), the Logic stage (5th-8th) and the Rhetoric stage (9th-12th). The first years are focused on grammar and learning the mechanics of the world. The Logic stage moves more into analysis and discovering the "why." High school is about moving beyond the textbook and communicating your own thoughts.

In the classical method, all of education is spun around the spine of history and literature. Both history and science are studied in a 4 year cycle: Biology and Ancient history in 1st grade, Earth Science and the Middle Ages in 2nd, Chemistry and Early Modern history in 3rd, and Physics and Modern history in 4th. Then the cycle repeats for the Logic stage and again for the Rhetoric stage. 

In the first stage, the grammar stage, the focus is on learning about the world. In history, most of the time is spent reading stories and doing activities to introduce the child to history and the world, in chronological order. There is a strong focus on "living books," in other words - not textbooks. Kids are being exposed to literature and history at an age appropriate level. Science is similar. A lot of time is spent exposing the child to scientific concepts through reading books and doing simple experiments. 

The classical method also has a strong focus on writing and communicating, and this begins early. Formal grammar is studied from 1st grade on. Studying Latin is another common practice, and it also beings early, often in second or third grade. 

In the Logic stage, there is a move toward more typical "textbook" learning and towards learning the details. A study of formal logic often happens in this period to support this transition. The student reads classic historical fiction related to the time period they are studying, and some literature from the time period when appropriate. The study of science loops back again as well, just more in depth this time.

The Rhetoric stage is the culmination of the prior two. The student has a strong understanding of history already, and now the primary focus is reading literature and primary sources from the time period, in historical order. The student will read and write in depth about history. The focus now is on joining the conversation by using their strengthening writing skills to add their own thoughts to the academic discussion.

Reality

While this is the way you hope and want homeschooling to go, the reality rarely matches the expectation. That was certainly true in the case of my family. Homeschooling has been quite a journey for us, and it never quite reached the potential the classical method extolled.

Real life gets in the way, and in my family, real life made homeschooling very difficult at times. Living in a single parent household, with a parent who worked full time AND tried to homeschool us was a challenge for everybody. It was a struggle, and there were a lot of ups and downs to the way things ultimately went.

In the end, I read a LOT, I wrote a good deal, and I got a lot of real life experience that has proved invaluable to me as I move into the "real world."

In part two, I'll talk more about how my experiences homeschooling effected me.

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