The Well-Trained Mind

We have decided to start our home-schooling journey using The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise as our main resource.

What I love about this book is that it offers a method of teaching your children with any curricula you choose, with any belief system you may have.  It is not a curriculum at all, but instead delivers a mind-set, an approach to educating your children.  From the processes laid out in this book, you can use just about any books, literature, curriculum and resources you want.

Paraphrasing from the book, "What the Well-Trained Mind Does: An Overview" (pages xxii-xxiii), Classical Education:
  • is Language-intensive, not image-focused.
  • is History-intensive
  • Trains the mind to analyze and draw conclusions
  • Demands self-discipline
I think all educational styles, if done appropriately, can do all of those things.  For us, the method in classical education most lines up with my abilities as a mom-teacher and my kids' learning styles.  We don't follow the process exactly, but we only deviate if doing so helps us learn better.

Under classic education, there are three learning stages.  From grades 1st through 4th, kids are in the Grammar Stage, also known as the Fact Gathering stage.  Many classical programs are very memorization-heavy in the Grammar Stage.  It also gets a lot of criticism as, to quote TWTM (pg 23) "A classical education assumes that knowledge of the world past and present takes priority over self-expression."  Rather than encouraging a child to write whatever they can think of, regardless of whether they can properly spell or form proper sentence structure, the Grammar Stage student spends a lot of time reading classical texts and copying the sentences from it in order to see how language is best used.  Personal context and expression are experienced when they are asked to narrate, or summarize, passages they have just read.  Creative writing is pushed until later.  Again, I know this is highly debated, but the reasoning give by the authors really resonated with me.

The second and third learning stages are Dialectic/Logic Stage, for grades 5-8, and the Rhetoric Stage, grades 9-12.  I won't go into detail to describing those now as, well, they don't apply us quite yet.

In each of the three stages, we will cover the same content.  We will cover all of history three times, starting with the Ancients in grades 1, 5, and 9, and going chronologically through modern history in grades 4, 8 and 12.  This means we get three bits of the apples.  In the Grammar Stage we'll pour as many facts and context into ourselves, then in the Logic Stage we'll start asking why questions, and then in the Rhetoric Stage we learn to express ourselves with fluency, applying all we've learned in the first two stages.

Putting classical education into practice requires lots and lots of books.  The goal is to not pick up one textbook for all of Ancient History, because, by nature, the textbooks can only be written through one worldview- that of the author(s).  Instead, we have a couple of encyclopedias and a library card.  We read the corresponding passages in the encyclopedias and find other "living history" books to give us other insights and voices.  Then we look for art and literature from those time periods.  We read, read, read, read.

As we go, the kids copy sentences from what we read to learn handwriting, spelling and grammar.  They narrate from passages to practice reading comprehension and, eventually, out-lining for proper writing skills.      They do projects and crafts that recreate things done by the peoples we are studying.  We choose a Science to study that matches what the peoples we are studying might also be studying and learning.  Everything ties together and makes a cohesive view of the world.  It helps us see the world through its complete history, in context.  Everything we do encourages us to be producers in education rather than consumers.  Everything we do is filed in binders by subject so that we can put together for ourselves a comprehensive picture of what we are learning.

On another day I'll detail the curricula we are choosing for each stage of our journey.  But, for now, I wanted to put into words our educational philosophy.  I hope one day J and G will be able to look back and understand why I have chosen what I have for our home-school education.  Kiddos, when you read this, I want you to see that I have your best selves in mind.  I love you tremendously and I want you to know what I know- that whatever you do, you will do it well and with much panache.  I just hope to point you in the right direction and let you go.

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