The Guide

This book is the reason that I have not gone entirely insane as a homeschooling parent. I am a person with endless creative ideas. Unfortunately, I get bored really, really quickly and never finish anything. When I was younger I had millions of bright ideas, tried tham all, and never finished any of them. Now I am older and wiser I have millions of bright ideas, restrain myself to try a tiny percentage of them, and still never finish any of them. But at least my life is calmer this way.

You can imagine the chaos that was once my homeschooling life. I read everything I could lay my hands on. I read John Holt, we tried unschooling. I read Charlotte Mason, we read Living Books continuously (nothing different there), but it all fell apart when it came to the rest of her method. I read Montessori, and completely rearranged the house into little self-directed work stations. The children pulled everything out at once and built towers and cubby houses out of all the educational materials. I read at another dozen educational writers every year, and tried all their suggestions, and when all else failed, desperately emailed my dear sister-in-law and teacher extraordinaire, Aly. I really should have paid more attention to her sensible suggestions at the time, but I was busy not finishing other things…

Enter The Well-Trained Mind and the half-dozen parent friendly texts that go with it. Here was a basic framework for a literature-based curriculum, that I could use all my favourite books with. Books that when I am feeling brain-dead I can just read out loud and have the children write down narrations, or answer questions, but when I am feeling creative, we can all branch out into illustrations, research projects and craft extravaganzas. How easy is this? A book that looks like a doorstop is a bit intimidating at first, but it just bursts with every kind of information on how to craft a curriculum for every age, and is so inspiring it makes you think you could be SuperHomeschoolingMum. With a cape.
The theory behind the curriculum is that developing children learn in different ways throughout their school years, but that you can cover the same kind of material over the different stages, in more detail each time, and with more expertise. The three stages are:

The Grammar Stage
Grades 1-4: This is the age where children can effortlessly memorise anything, and frequently do, including the names and powers of 5000 different pokemon characters. Harnessing these powers for good by introducing them to all the cool stories of history, plus spelling rules, names of planets and all the small bones of the foot seems a snap in comparison. These are the years where the patterns for the rest of the years of education are laid down, but fairly uncritically, and with broad brush strokes. The tools of learning are introduced…reading, writing, arithmetic. Children follow a four year journey through history, learning the stories and myths of history, from Ancient Times through to the present. Greek myths, Aztec stories, Columbus sailing across the ocean blue, the many wives of Henry the Eighth, Mozart the child prodigy, Captain Cook, Simpson and his donkey, Anne Frank hidden away behind a secret cupboard…

The Logic Stage
Grades 5-8: Here children practice the skills they learnt in the Grammar stage, learning how to compose a piece of prose, how to summarize, and write reports. At this stage, children ask ‘Why?’ (well, let’s face it, children ask ‘why?’ from the age of three on, and routinely drive us all crazy. At three, though, they want a quick and concrete answer. At ten, they really want to know, and can appreciate abstract reasoning). At this stage, they journey through history again, this time exploring subjects in more detail, and finding out why things happened as they did. They study the ‘why’ of science and learn how to apply the scientific method to their experiments, and they study the basics of logic.

The Rhetoric Stage
Grades 8-12: We have teenagers. They have opinions. Using the tools of learning that they have honed throughout their childhoods, and building on the knowledge base that they have accrued, these young people can now write with flair and persuasion, and start to develop their own arguments in relation to the material they study. They begin to specialize in their chosen fields. They take another stroll through history, this time delving in to original sources, and tackling more difficult texts – but with confidence, because they have seen all this material before.

What I love about this theory of education? It is coherent; there is a plan. Everything, you may have noted, hinges on history. Students study science, art, literature according to the historical period they are studying. They learn about astronomy with the ancient Greeks, Gallileo, and the Victorian gentleman scientists. Students can follow their own interests (science, art, cooking, whatever) and get a sense of how these disciplines developed throughout history. The other thing I love about it? This curriculum was developed by an immensely articulate and enthusiastic homeschooler, who also teaches writing and literature, and who was also homeschooled herself in the 1970’s by her mother, who co-authors the book. Nothing like a bit of success to inspire confidence!

Now, if anyone is still awake, an excellent article by Susan Wise Bauer herself, on homeschooling the highschool student. And, barring any really interesting late night television, soon, another review, this time on the Well-Trained Mind history texts, Story of the World.


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