Wednesday, March 17, 2010

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.