The goal of Classical Education is to give students the tools with which to learn on their own — to liberate them from the drudgery of task-performance and to make them independent scholars.
In previous chapters we have:
- Explained how the trivium can serve as both a method for learning any subject and as a model of how the learning of a child develops.
- Argued the importance of the three formal subjects of the trivium.
- Supplied some introduction to those subjects and offered a comparison of different approaches to homeschooling, showing where they all fit in to the trivium model of development.
There is more than one legitimate way to approach classical education. In this booklet, we explain how we, as a homeschooling family, have put the principles of the Trivium into practice. Other classical educators may apply the trivium differently, emphasizing different methods and principles. Most of the things we recommend come from our own experiences. This does not mean that we followed every one of our recommendations all the years we have taught our children. It has taken us many years to fully develop our philosophy of education. We made the most mistakes with our first children — they were our guinea pigs. Some of the things we recommend are what we would do if we could begin again. In this booklet you read the culmination of a long journey.
Education does not occur on a factory assembly line. We disagree with the “one formula fits all” approach which attempts to press every child into the same mold. Each and every child is one-of-a-kind, growing up in the unique family where God has placed him. You, the parents, must determine for yourselves, under the direction and guidance of the Lord, what is the best approach for your own family and for each of your own children. We suggest that you should not limit yourselves to our recommendations. We certainly do not know it all, and we may know very little about what may fit your particular circumstances.
Please keep in mind the fact that some classical educators have had little or no experience with homeschooling. Classical private schools apply the principles of Classical Education to a classroom environment. This influences their methods significantly, as well it should. We would not expect them to necessarily regard our homeschooling experience as applying to a classroom. These are two greatly different experiences. When compared to classroom schools, homeschooling operates under a very different set of circumstances and in some ways a very different philosophy of education. Teachers and principals in a classroom school would use teaching methods which differ significantly from the one-on-one methods which a mother would use in teaching her own children. Discipline would significantly vary between the two different situations. Classical classroom educators tend to focus more on competitive academic achievement in the Classical subjects (Latin, Logic, Greek, Rhetoric, etc.), which drives them to pursue the academics at earlier ages because less can be achieved in a classroom situation in a given amount of time than can be achieved by one-on-one tutoring in the home. Homeschooling tends to release one to focus more on the classical method of the trivium which allows one to pay more attention to the principles of child development. In other words, in a homeschooling situation, Classical Education becomes more than just an academic discipline. It becomes a way of life.
There is a wide variety of ways to implement classical education in the homeschool. In this Course of Study, we have laid out general principles and plans, not minute instructions. Who knows better how to bring order to your own homeschool and family life than yourself? If we tried to take in every possibility, this booklet would resemble a phone book. If we laid out any one possibility in every little detail — which day of the week to teach each Latin verb — it would be a workable plan for practically nobody. Those who produce individual curriculum often lay out these details. But whether you are following a pre-planned curriculum, a recommended reading list, or your own collection of materials, you will still have to adapt it to your own circumstances, which you should learn to do rather easily. We have mapped out the road ahead of you. We have left it to you to lay out your traveling schedule and to explore some of the side roads. You will have to figure out on your own when and how to eat your breakfast in the style of a truly Classical Education — as if that actually mattered. Though Classical Education may seem a bit daunting at first, it is not particularly more difficult than other approaches to education, and in some ways is actually easier than most. So do not feel overwhelmed. Average parents with average children — like us and ours — can certainly succeed and thrive under Classical Education. We have found it rewarding and enjoyable.
Because our ideas are built one on top of the other, we suggest that you read this booklet from start to finish rather than skipping to the parts which focus on the particular ages of your children.
I. Building a Firm Foundation
The Early Grammar Stage
Ten Things to Do With Your Child Before Age Ten
Before age ten, the child is in an early Grammar Stage where he is mostly dependent upon his concrete sensory experiences for learning. To put it in computer lingo, he is still “booting up.” Around age ten, the child enters a more intense phase of the Grammar Stage where his brain becomes physically able to make more complex connections, which, among other things, makes the child more able to handle abstract concepts and helps the child with self-management and self-control.
Force feeding academic studies before age ten is not an efficient use of your time, is not going to accomplish all of the good which you desire, and may actually work some harm. Of course the exact age differs from child to child, but about age ten the child becomes developmentally mature enough to pursue studies which are more academic. We suggest that formal academics should be the focus after age ten, hence the focus before age ten should be to build a good foundation for the later academics. The way to accomplish this is to exercise the mind so as to develop those parts of the mind which are appropriate for the specific age of the child. The early years are the time to sow the seeds of honoring God and parents, developing the capacity for language and the appetite for learning, enriching the memory, encouraging creativity, and instilling a work and service ethic. These are the kind of things which will lay a good foundation for the formal academics later. First things come first. Academics must be built upon a good moral foundation.
At age ten, with a well prepared mind, you can choose the curriculum which best suits both your child and your circumstances. If you lay a firm foundation, then you can build upon it a mighty edifice. But if you skimp on the foundation and begin hastily, then the building may sag and lean, and parts may fall as the foundation sinks or crumbles beneath it.
The following is a general list of ten things we believe are important to teach your children before age ten. After this we will outline a suggested daily schedule.
(Questions inserted in the text are actual questions which we have received.)
|Ten things to do with Children before age 10|
|1. Reading & Writing||Intensive Phonics; Copywork; start English Language Notebook|
|2. Oral Narration||Daily|
|3. Memorization||Bible; poetry; passages of literature; Greek and/or Hebrew alphabet|
|4. Hearing & Listening||Read aloud 2 hours per day from a variety of fiction and nonfiction; start History Notebook; timeline|
|5. Family Worship||Family Bible study morning and evening using grammar level questions|
|6. Arts & Crafts||Provide the time, space, and materials; develop creativity|
|7. Field Trips & Library||Start learning elementary library research; investigate the world|
|8. Work & Service||Schedule for chores; visit nursing home, etc.|
|9. Discipline||First-time obedience|
|10. Play & Exploration||Develop the imagination|
1. Reading and Writing
Sometime before your child is ten, you should teach him to read, using a good intensive phonics method.
The first question is: At what age should I begin? A few children will learn to read at age four, while a few may be fully ten years old before they can confidently read a basic reader. Most children, however, will learn to read sometime between the ages of five and eight. The age at which a child learns to read is no indicator of how intelligent he is or how well he will do in academics later on. Our own children learned to read somewhere between age five and nine. We suggest beginning phonics at age five. If, after a reasonable amount of time, you find that your child is not retaining any of the instruction, even though he is putting forth an effort, then you may want to put the curriculum aside and wait a few months before trying it again.
The second question is: What materials should I use? There are many good intensive phonics reading programs. Some families will try one, find it does not work, try another, find it does not work, try another, find it does not work, try another, and at last it works. So in their mind this last one is the best one, when in reality, the child was finally old enough, developed to the point of true readiness to read.
Here is how I (Laurie) began to teach our oldest child, Nathaniel, to read. This is by no means a recommendation, but only the story of a small part of our journey through the school of hard knocks. When Nathaniel was just an infant, I read the book How to Teach Your Baby to Read, by Glenn Doman. This book teaches a pure form of the “look-say” or “whole language” method for learning how to read. Back in the 1950’s, I was taught to read with the Dick and Jane “look-say” sight readers, so I recognized Doman’s method as the way I had been taught to read. Since I did not know any better, I latched onto this method of teaching reading. Following the book’s instructions, I began teaching Nathaniel when he turned two. As the book directed, I made up large flash cards with vocabulary words printed on them: mommy, daddy, house, school, etc., and I drilled Nathaniel several times each day. Yes, he learned to “read” those words on the flash cards, but I found that if I skipped a day’s instruction, then he forgot all the words, so I had to begin all over again. My sister suggested that I teach him the alphabet first. I simply parroted the instructions of Mr. Doman by replying, “Oh, no, teaching the alphabet would just confuse him.” I think I lasted about three months with this method. It was an exercise in futility not unlike pouring water into a bucket full of holes. As long as I spent large and precious amounts of time each day drilling him with the flash cards, he continued to “read” them back to me. But if I failed to keep filling his bucket by drilling him with the cards, then his level of reading ability would keep dropping as his vocabulary would be draining out the holes. At about this time, I heard a radio talk show program on the subject of teaching reading by a method they called “intensive phonics.” The guest that day was Benita Rubicam, then president of what was called the Reading Reform Foundation. What she said made sense, and she immediately converted me. I read everything which that organization had to offer, and I began my search for the best intensive phonics program to use with my children. That all happened back in 1978. Writing Road to Reading: The Spalding Method for Teaching Speech, Spelling, Writing, and Reading was what I finally decided to use. At that time, it was considered to be the best intensive phonics curriculum — although all of the helps and teacher’s manuals were not available back then. When I looked the curriculum over, I was initially somewhat overwhelmed. I thought, “How am I ever going to learn all of these rules.” It was not nearly as hard as it first seemed. Mom had to learn the phonics system herself — which happened as she taught her first couple of children to read. After that, it was easy. Remember, mom was never taught the phonics system herself! Things are not nearly so hard once you know what you are doing! Mom is not nearly so dependent on the purchased phonics curriculum. Any average person can teach reading — that is, once they themselves have correctly learned to read.
Homeschooling families have many good intensive phonics programs from which to choose. You should locate an intensive phonics curriculum which best fits the needs of your family. Among those criteria you should consider for choosing a phonics curriculum are these:
Expense. The teaching of reading does not need to be costly. Because many of us parents were not taught phonics, we need a full curriculum to teach ourselves first! Once we have learned the system, then we can easily teach our children by using a small chalkboard and a few easy readers.
Method. Despite what some persons want us to believe, English is a phonetic language. The problem with English is that it has the largest vocabulary, manifold larger than any other language which has ever existed. As a consequence, English has incorporated spellings from many different languages. Therefore, the way a particular word spells its sound may also display some of its history. This is the great cultural treasure of the English language — a treasure which is rapidly being lost as our vocabularies swiftly shrink under “look-say” or sight reading — a method of teaching reading which was invented for the deaf! You cannot build a large vocabulary upon the foundation of sight reading.
Intensive phonics is the only method which fits English. Do not be fooled by the fake phonics programs which are based upon “look-say” sight reading, but which sprinkle in some incidental phonics as “auditory-clues.” Most of the reading curricula used in the state-socialist schools is fake phonics. Intensive phonics teaches the sounds of each letter or letter combination and builds up a full system of pronunciation. (Yes, there are some quaint little exceptions, and they are taught also.)
Usability. If you are unfamiliar with the English phonetic system, then make sure that the curriculum which you choose has plenty of teacher’s helps. Back in the seventies and eighties, when we used The Writing Road to Reading, the parent was expected to take a course at a college in order to learn how to use it. Today, numerous helps have been added. We recommend using a phonics curriculum which is easy to understand and use.
Here are a few suggestions to re-enforce whatever phonics curriculum you choose: When your child studies a particular sound, bring it before his mind in different ways. For example: Write the letter “W” on the blackboard, or write it on paper and hang it in the living room. Talk with him about words which begin with “W.” When the children and I would play on the swing set, I would sing to them the alphabet song, and they would sing along. When we played with clay, I would make the clay into shapes of letters and encourage them to make them, also. We were always making cards to send to the relatives, and I would encourage the little ones to write their letters on the cards. I would give them a pile of macaroni or rice or beans, and we would glue these items onto paper in the form of letters. We would line their toys up on the floor in the shape of letters. Our family worship time doubled as phonics instruction time. The little ones who were just learning to read would be required to find in their Bible a letter which they could recognize — such as the initial letter of their name. Later they would sound out words. Our youngest child went from sounding out letters to reading fluently the King James Bible in about one year.
Artificially Induced Dyslexia
Question: Several of my children do not seem to think deeply despite the fact that they have been homeschooled. We reached a crossroads recently with my thirteen year old son and we finally put him in school full time. I found that I cannot do this job by myself. I need my husband’s help to do it. But my husband has “dyslexia,” and so does his whole family. He does not think in words, but in pictures, which makes our communication difficult at times. My husband has been so adversely affected by the teaching methods of the secular school system that he is not a reader — not by his choice. My husband is willing to read several hours a week in order to set an example. Since he is already well past the normal age to learn reading, where should he begin?
This appears to be a classic case of artificially induced dyslexia. I would suggest that you pick out an intensive phonics program and teach him to read phonetically instead of pictographically. Your biggest problem will be to break his habit of looking at words pictographically. Encourage him to practice sounding out words aloud (or mouthing the words silently). Find books for him to read which will interest him but which are fairly easy.
Concerning the problem of not thinking: people who do not read, and who spend their free time watching television and movies, playing video and computer games, or who otherwise spend their time seeking entertainment, will not be able to think critically. Documentation for this is given in Jane Healy’s two books, Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think And What We Can Do About It and Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds and What We Can Do About It. For one who is truly taught to think, thinking becomes his way of life.
English Language Notebook
We recommend that each student keep an English Language Notebook (which we will discuss in more detail later). The notebook can begin with his study of phonics. Because pages can be taken out and replaced with new pages easily, three-ring binders seem to be more useful than spiral notebooks. Fill it with notebook paper, blank paper (white and colored) and subject dividers. Each child should have his own notebook. If phonics is new to mother, she may need one also. The student will add to this notebook each week.
At about the same time you are teaching your child to read, you should also teach him to write his letters. Most phonics curricula include instructions for how to teach writing. You begin with printing each letter of the alphabet. He may fill a page or two of his notebook with each letter of the alphabet. Decorate the pages with your child’s own drawings or with cut-outs from magazines: apples on the “A” page, buttons on the “B” page, etc. Have your child add pages of his practice letter writing to his notebook. You will add consonant digraphs, diphthongs and other letter combinations later. This notebook will supplement a phonics curriculum, but will not take the place of it.
When your child becomes fairly proficient at printing his letters and he is on the road to learning how to read, you can begin him on copywork. Copywork is an age-old practice dating back to ancient times, and is, along with oral narration, the first step in teaching a child how to write. First Peter 2:21, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving behind for us a copyhead, in order that ye should trace over his tracks.” Copywork is a good way to practice handwriting skills, re-enforce phonics instruction, introduce grammar and proper sentence structure, and lay a foundation for creative writing at a later age. In copywork, the child copies on his own paper, word for word, from a sentence or paragraph which someone else has written. Whose sentences and paragraphs should your child copy? Use the finest literature. Begin with the Bible. For more advice on selections, consider Philippians 4:8. Your child should spend some time each day doing copywork. In her book, Language Arts. . . The Easy Way, Cindy Rushton outlines how to incorporate copywork into your curriculum. Copywork could be kept in his English Language Notebook, or it may deserve its own separate notebook. Your child may copy from the Bible one day, copy poetry or literature the next day, copy famous speeches or sayings of important men another day. He may keep all of his copywork in one notebook, or he may keep different notebooks for different kinds of literature.
How much time should he spend in copywork? As always, it depends on your child. Some girls, who are born with pencils in their hands, will write the day away, and you might have to set some upper limits. Some little boys, who find it a struggle to even hold a pencil, let alone use it — even at the age of nine! — will require some minimal “you’re not free until this is done” time. Writing just one verse of Scripture may reach the upper limit of their ability. You want to teach these little ones diligence and perseverance and challenge them, but without discouraging them. Here is a principle to work with in determining what to require of your child: once you have found a level at which he can work, then keep up a steady challenge for your child to do a little more, a little better, a little further, yet never pushing beyond his abilities and level. If you require too much, you will certainly discourage him. If you require too little, you will spoil him. There’s a band in the middle, and it’s your job to find it. Some children reach a plateau for a while, until a couple things click, then they are off again. Try to do that in a class of thirty students, then you will understand why one-on-one parenting is so superior. Normally a five year old may spend perhaps fifteen minutes a day in copywork, while a nine year old may spend thirty minutes each day.
How Much Writing is Enough
Question: We have been using ___ Curriculum for the “backbone” of our history and reading. Their Language Arts program, especially creative writing, seems overwhelming. There are weekly assignments, poems, dialogs, outlines, imaginative writing, etc. It is a bit daunting for my eight year old and seven year old. Instead of dictation, we have been doing copywork two to four times per week, using a variety of sources: poetry, Psalms, Proverbs, and passages from the books we are reading. My children will occasionally, without any initiation, add dialog to pictures they have drawn, tell silly stories, put on plays with puppets, etc. So I know they are not completely devoid of creative abilities. Since my husband is in the habit of keeping a journal, we plan to give them nice journals at the end of the year and make journal writing a family affair. Are we on the “right track” with copybook, journal writing, oral narration, and their occasional creative writing impulses? My instinct is to encourage their other creative pursuits and not to require any creative writing at this point — except what they initiate themselves. My husband is concerned that if we do not require the creative writing assignments at this time, then they will miss out on something.
Copywork, oral narration (which we will talk about later), and their occasional spontaneous creative writing — this is plenty for children in the early Grammar Stage (below age ten). I encouraged my children to combine art with copywork. They made little booklets of their copywork, of the Greek or Hebrew alphabets, of little stories which they wrote and illustrated with pictures, of science projects or history projects. Children can cover their booklets with scraps of fabric or paper out of wallpaper sample books.
2. Oral Narration
In Britain, at the close of the nineteenth century, Charlotte Mason developed the concept of narration as a method of teaching. In her book For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School Susan Schaeffer Macaulay has reintroduced narration to homeschooling families. Karen Andreola has followed this up with her articles in the magazine Practical Homeschooling. In oral narration, the parent reads to the child, or the child reads to himself, then the child “tells back” to the parent, in his own words, what was just read. It is best to begin narration at an early age, when the child is four or five years old, to practice it on a daily basis, and to continue the practice through high school.
Narration is an exercise which builds mental stamina. According to Karen Andreola, “. . . narration takes the place of questionnaires and multiple choice tests, it enables the child to bring all the faculties of mind into play. The child learns to call on the vocabulary and descriptive power of good writers as he tells his own version of the story.”
Narration is very difficult to do. Could you, without notes, narrate the sermon which you heard last Sunday? Most of us — including the pastor who preached the sermon — would have trouble remembering even the text of the sermon. Our adult minds have not been trained to listen to something, remember it, and then retell it. We were never trained in the skill of narration.
It is best to begin small. Read to your child one short paragraph from a simple story, then ask him to retell the story in his own words. In the beginning you may need to prompt your child with questions about the passage. As the child becomes more practiced in the skill of narration, he will be able to narrate longer and more detailed passages.
Narration can serve three functions. First, you can periodically test how well a child is comprehending the material which he reads or hears. The more a child has to say in his narration, the more thoroughly he has understood the material. If he does not remember much about the material, then he probably did not listen well or read carefully.
Second, you can use narration to develop and sharpen the mental capacities. As jogging down the physical road exercises the body, so jogging down the memory channels exercises the mind.
Third, copywork combined with oral narration constitutes the first step in teaching a child how to write. The process of creative writing involves two skills: the actual physical work of taking pencil in hand and putting the words on paper, which your child learns by copywork; and the work of creating in the mind the ideas to write about, which is developed in your child through oral narration. If you develop these two skills in your child before age ten, then, when your child has matured, he will have these two “tools” at hand to work with creatively when writing.
Do not let your child be a passive observer. If you read to him, ask him questions about what he has heard. Tell him to narrate the material back in his own words. Make him address any moral value issues which may come up. Develop his mind, not simply in the direction of absorbing, but in the direction of responding. The mind which can respond has to absorb in some measure, but the mind which simply absorbs — like in front of a television or computer screen — is too passive in the learning process, learns to take without giving, and it is questionable how much it really does absorb anyway. Computers do not offer learning experiences which require real human responsiveness. Programmed learning has its uses, and it can be very effective at later ages, but at this age your child needs interaction with an adult (and not with groups of children his own age).
Memorization should be begun when your child is young — even as young as two or three — and continued throughout life. (It is good for us old folks, also). Time should be spent everyday reciting memory work. Encourage your child to memorize such things as the Greek and Hebrew Alphabets, passages from the Bible, poetry, catechisms, excerpts from literature. Your child could memorize passages of the Bible in Greek or Latin, and the same passages in English, in order to give them a feel for those languages. Memorizing passages of literature will prepare your child for the study of formal grammar at age ten. He gets a feel for the way sentences are put together and he builds his vocabulary. Memorizing also prepares your child to be a good writer. What goes into a child’s head as a little one will come out later as he writes.
Perhaps your child can recite his memory work in front of the family or a larger group. This may prepare your child for competitions in oral interpretation and speech and debate when he is older. Together, memorization and narration train, sharpen, and strengthen the mind, which prepares your child for more rigorous studies later on. That is precisely what we want to do in the early years of a child’s life. By contrast, television, videos, and even much of the educational software actually works in the opposite direction.
There is some discussion over what to have the child memorize. Some say the time should be spent memorizing facts: dates, Latin verb endings, geographic and scientific data, etc. Maybe so, but consider these points: 1) There is only so much time in the day, so we, as the parents, need to determine what is the best use of that time; and 2) The beauty of homeschooling is that we parents are in charge of deciding what the child should be memorizing. If it is important to you that the child have all the states and capitals memorized by age ten, then by all means do it. I would suggest that both parents sit down and write out a list of those things they think are important for their children to memorize, changing this list as different priorities come and go. 3) Bare facts, divorced from their contexts, can become a drudgery. They are best planted as seeds in the fertile context of their story. Christopher Columbus, discoverer of America on October 12, in the year 1492 — those facts are much better memorized when linked to the story of Columbus.
Because of the way that the brain is structured before age ten, we believe that memorizing passages of literature in Latin or Greek, and their translation in English, would be much more profitable than memorizing deductive paradigms in the language (which is formal Latin and Greek grammar). Indeed, the ideal is to be a multi-lingual family where the children learn to speak and read all of these languages in their early years long before they ever study the grammar — just as they learn English! The time for formal grammar — paradigms and such — is at age ten or after. More on that subject later.
Spend some time — maybe five to ten minutes per child, once or twice each day — listening to each child recite his memory work. Daily exercise for the memory, like daily exercise for the body, helps to maintain its strength. Certainly, the child will not need to review every day everything that he has ever committed to memory. After he has mastered something, bring on something new, and review the old masters once a week or so. After a fair amount of old masters are accumulated, then review the oldest once a month or so. Over the years, many things may fade, though their impression will always be there, yet some things will never be forgotten. I still remember some of the introduction to Canterbury Tales which I had to memorize for high school. I remember it not because it was any good (. . . wan that April with its shura sota. . . — something like that), but because of the trauma I went through reciting it in front of an audience!
4. Hearing and Listening
By reading aloud to your child, he learns the sound of words, he increases his vocabulary, he enlarges his conceptions of the world, and he develops his imagination. We suggest that you read to your child at least two hours a day. Read from a wide variety of good literature, biographies, and historical fiction. Include books on science, geography, art, music, and history.
Three do nots: Do not be afraid to read to young children books with long chapters. A five year old is capable of attending to and understanding much of such books as Treasure Island or Journey to the Center of the Earth. Do not waste your time reading “fast-food” type books (e.g. Babysitter Club books or Nancy Drew mysteries). Do not require your children to sit beside you on the couch perfectly still while you read. As long as they stayed in the room and were not distracting or interrupting, we allowed our children to play quietly with their toys or to work on cross-stitching or to draw or some similar quiet project, while we read aloud. Many children listen much better when they are doing something with their hands — indeed, it seems some little boys cannot sit still long enough to listen unless they are holding something. Some parents combine narration with read aloud times.
We do not often read aloud in one uninterrupted two-hour-long stretch. We read some in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some at night. There are notable exceptions. I remember one day when we read The Long Winter by Laura Ingles Wilder in one long stretch, skipping everything else which would interrupt our reading the day away.
Reading aloud is my favorite part of homeschooling. How many others have had this experience: I am sitting on the couch (a chair would never do) reading a good book, such as Men of Iron by Howard Pyle. One child sits on my right, and one child sits on my left, and one child sits on the back of the couch behind my neck, and one child sits on my lap. The fifth child has to make do. Everyone must to be situated, just so, in order to see all of the pictures — which must be examined minutely before the page is turned. This is one of the ways God taught me patience. Let them look at the pictures and ask their questions. We will eventually find out who wins the joust. Last year, my oldest daughter, Johannah, painted this cosy scene for us, collaging photos from long ago, putting us all into one memorable picture. I was wearing braids and sitting on that old brown couch which long ago met the rubbish pile after much good use. If I could have just an hour of that time again, right now, I would gladly read Corduroy fifteen times in a row and not complain.
When I read a book which includes dialog written in a dialect, I try to imitate the foreign accent. This tends to spill over into other conversations — even when answering the phone. The children are embarrassed when we drive into the McDonald’s drive through, and I order the hamburgers in a Scottish brogue.
You can develop your child’s idea of the continuity of history by marking those things you study or read about on a time line. Stretch some paper out on your living room wall, draw a line down the middle, mark it off in fifty or hundred year increments, then leave it there for the next twenty years. You could have one family time line, or each child could make his own time line. Every time you read something historical, mark it on your time line. When you read about the life of Bach, mark his birth and death on the time line. When you read about the invention of the printing press, mark that point on the time line. The children could illustrate the time line. Some families put their time lines into three ring binders. That makes them more portable, and more revisable. A time line displays a continuous view of history, especially when it is placed where the children can always look at it. If memorizing dates is important to you, this may make it easier. More importantly, it gives your child a better notion of the time relationship between events. Daddy and mommy were not even married when men first landed on the moon! Daddy lived before there were super-highways or rockets. Great grandpa lived before there were jet airplanes.
We suggest each child begin a History Notebook. You could begin this notebook when the child is in the early Grammar Stage, or wait until he is older. Each child should have his own notebook. We suggest using a three-ring binder filled with subject dividers and paper (white and colored). We will discuss the History Notebook in more detail later.
Abridged Versus Unabridged Books
Question: Why is it important to read classic literature in their unabridged versions? Isn’t the version abridged in order to keep persons from getting “bogged down” and “giving up?” I agree with developing right appetites, but I do not agree with the reasoning behind reading the unabridged versions.
Here are four phases of a book — the original unabridged version, the abridged version, the comic book version, and the video (movie) version. Why should we not skip the first three phases and only require that our children watch the movie version? The answer is obvious. If our children only watched movies instead of reading, they would not develop literary mindedness. They would not develop vocabulary, grammatical construction, paragraph construction, development of thought, etc. They would not develop their mental imagery — they would just be seeing pictures.
What if we only required our children to read the comic book version of a book? They would still get the story, but the vocabulary, sentence construction, etc. would be at the pablum level. This sort of thing may be acceptable for children first learning to read, but older children must be challenged in their thinking.
We could stop at the abridged versions. That is where most of America stops anyway. Read this:
Mrs. Swift was waiting for them in front of the house, as the car shrieked to an abrupt halt.
This was taken from Tom Swift and His Flying Lab, a typical fast food type book. It takes no thought to read that sentence. You know all the words and their meanings. Your mind absorbs the sentence easily. In fact, reading aloud this type of sentence is tiring. It doesn’t take long before fatigue sets in and the book is put down. It dulls the mind. Now, read this:
By the time the boat came back to Hall’s, his arms were so numb that he could hardly tell whether his oar was in or out of his hand; his legs were stiff and aching, and every muscle in his body felt as if it had been pulled out an inch or two.
This was taken from Tom Brown at Oxford. This type of sentence holds the attention. It engages the mind. The sentence structure challenges, yet does not overwhelm. Abridged versions commonly dumb down the language to an elementary level. There are exceptions, of course — but that is exactly what they are: exceptions.
How do you develop an appetite for a good, lean steak if all you eat is soybean imitation meat. One develops the fast food appetite by reading the fast-food edited versions. The reason that they write those abridged versions is because we will not read the good literature.
Question: What good purpose is served by reading books which are written by non-Christians? We know homeschoolers who do not read anything which is not by a Christian author, and even then, they reject many books if they appear to have too much “conflict or evil.” This would include, but not be limited to books such as The Hobbit and Silas Marner or authors such as George MacDonald and Charles Dickens.
I first heard this question many years ago in Houston, Texas. A woman was looking over the booklet Hand That Rocks the Cradle: 400 Classic Books for Children (a list of fiction which we have read and recommend) and she wondered why we recommended a book all about war: Johnny Tremain, The Story of Boston in Revolt Against the British.
Some of the books which we read and enjoyed fifteen years ago we would not necessarily approve of today. Take for example the Jeremy books by Hugh Walepole. We read them several years ago, and I remember loving them. I recently reread one of them and could not believe I ever liked it. Jeremy, the main character, is quite disrespectful of his parents, and what is worse, his disrespectfulness is approved of by the author. In other words, if the boy showed disrespect and was punished for it and this conflict was resolved in the book, then that would be right. But in this story he showed disrespect and the author allowed that to be a part of Jeremy’s character without showing that it was wrong. Fifteen years ago I did not see that problem. Today I see the problem very clearly. We took the books off of our list.
Each book should be read critically, pointing out its problems and faults, and analyzing the author’s philosophy. Use each book as an example to show the children what to look for. Though you should never read anything uncritically, yet you also do not want to spend all of your time criticizing. You’ll have to determine the proper balance for each book for your own family. This is a judgement call, and we cannot fault families who choose not to read some literature. Some caution is in order when reading Christian as well as non-Christian authors. Many Christian authors write pablum. We read theological authors with whom we disagree. We read very critically, and they often end up being much more profitable than authors with whom we agree — precisely because they make us think. The works of Robert Lewis Stevenson are some of the most excellent English literature ever written, and there may be much value in reading them, but he does not appear to be a Christian. Do not make a steady diet of one author. Read critically. Do not live for entertainment.
I Cannot Keep Up With My Child’s Reading
Question: My son, age nine, devours books. He does manage to put up with my reading aloud and even seems to enjoy it, but I can tell that he would rather just zoom through the books himself. I have told him that we will continue to do both. The problem is, he reads so fast (and can narrate back accurately) that I can hardly keep him in books! I used to be able to read books before I gave them to him, but I can no longer keep up with him. I am uncomfortable with just handing him books which I have not read. What if he comes across something which I would not want him to read or which I think would not be appropriate for his age?
You are right in feeling uncomfortable with just handing a nine year old a book to read without knowing what is in the book. It is better not to read at all than to read garbage. I never let my children read books with which I was unfamiliar. When they did want to read something with which I was not familiar, then I would have to read it aloud, commenting on any bad ideas presented in the story and skipping over any inappropriate parts. Sometimes I would just stop reading — the book was not worth the bother. The book which taught me this lesson was Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Borroughs. Nathaniel was young when he wanted to read this book, and because it is an old book, I thought it must be acceptable. After Nathaniel finished reading the book he told me that the main character in it committed adultery. I think it was that Tarzan committed adultery in his heart, not in actual fact. He did not think he should read any more books by Borroughs. I was rather upset that Nathaniel had not stopped reading the book immediately when he came upon that incident, but I was nevertheless glad that he told me about it. It taught me that I need to be more careful concerning what the children read, and that just because a book is old does not mean it is good. If you cannot keep up with the boy’s reading, then you may choose to have him re-read approved books.
Requiring him to continue listening while father or mother read aloud to all the children will strengthen his auditory learning skills and help him to develop his imagination. It also gives him shared time with the family, instead of being off by himself, indulging his own ways.
Quiet While Reading Aloud
Question: I have four children. I read to my ten and seven year old together, and I read separately to my four year old. The four year old is wonderful, but he is also strong-willed and he is inclined to test the waters whenever and wherever he can. Having a seven month old baby on top of this has made schooling very challenging. Since the four year old is no longer napping, it is even more challenging. Though I have attempted to include him in the room while I read, it seems very difficult for him to keep from making interruptive noises while I read. I have tried puzzles, and this worked the best, but he does not have the attention span of the older two. It is hard to continue reading while he constantly switches activities. I can read for about an hour when he is with us but it is a very challenging hour. It is difficult for the older two to narrate against the background noise of his activeness.
Imagine this scenario: Mother calls up the stairs, “I will be reading in five minutes.” Instantly five little munchkins come tumbling down, ever anxious for the next installment of Island of the Blue Dolphins. Intent on working with the new markers which Uncle David gave him, nine-year-old Nathaniel quietly sits down at the art table which Mother has positioned next to the art shelf in the living room. Seven-year-old Johannah picks up her cross-stitch project she is trying to finish for this year’s county fair. Five-year-old Hans plays quietly in the corner with his Legos. Three-year-old Ava happily sits near Mother on the couch sucking her thumb and holding Mother’s hair. And little Helena crawls around examining the furniture and falls asleep on the floor an hour into the reading. All the children work and play quietly, never causing Mother a moment’s worry or distraction. She never has a need to tell anyone to be quiet or to stop fighting. All is peace and calmness. Mother reads for two hours, stopping occasionally to call for narrations, and then stops to prepare dinner. Is this reality? I think not.
I determined long ago that if I waited for the perfect time to read aloud, I would be waiting forever. The reality is that, while children are small, you will have interruptions. The smaller the children and the larger the number of children, the more the interruptions. But motherhood is a continuous process of training these children. I have only a few years left before I have finished with my own brood. I hope that my sons and daughters will let me help with their broods.
Here are some suggestions which may help. A three or four-year-old is old enough to be required to stay in one area — on a blanket or small rug, kept busy for half of an hour with Legos or some such toy. After this, switch his places and his toys and require him to play quietly for another fifteen minutes. By that time Mother will need a break from reading, so everyone can move on to the next thing on your schedule. Perhaps you could keep back some special toys just for read aloud times. If the child becomes noisy in his play, stop reading and gently remind him to “modulate your voice,” as Laura Ingles Wilder’s mother used to say. Whether we ever actually attain to the point of no interruptions, that is the goal toward which we strive, and it is the training process along the way which is the most important. Children remember how we mothers did things and sometimes why we did things, regardless of how often the perfect result was actually obtained. Mother was always gentle and kind in her training, because it was important to show respect by keeping quiet and not interrupting her so that everyone could listen.
Books on Tape
Question: What do you think of children listening to books on tape as a partial substitute for mom reading aloud one to two hours per day. My eight-year-old boy especially has latched onto several very good books, at least two grades above his reading level, which he has gobbled up because he can listen to the tape and follow along in the book.
Our family often listens to books on tape, especially while traveling long distances in the car. Many libraries have a large selection of books on tape. Your suggestion of having the child follow along in the book as he listens to the tape may be very good. This combines the auditory with the visual. But do not allow this to become a total substitute for Father and Mother reading aloud. You still need to do this, for your sake, and for your family’s sake.
5. Family Worship
Contrary to the old saying, “the family which prays together, stays together,” studies have shown that the family which only prays together — that is, worships together only at church — does not usually stay together. It is only the family which prays and studies the Bible together regularly as a family at home which stays together. With regular family worship, the mind is developed along spiritual and moral lines in a way which cannot be accomplished by Bible workbooks, private devotions, or regular church attendance.
A method of Bible study which we suggest is Biblical and profitable is to have someone read a passage of Scripture, then have everyone in the family, perhaps in turn, ask a question about the passage. Before age ten, you may expect a child to ask mostly Grammar Stage questions of fact. By age thirteen he will ask more Logic Stage questions of theory, and by age sixteen he will ask more Rhetoric Stage questions of practice. If you accomplish all the academics, but leave out family worship, you will raise well educated practical agnostics. Family training in God’s word should be your top priority — far above academics. See our Appendix on Family Bible Study by the Trivium.
Do not let your child ignore God. God is the ultimate reason for why he is alive. When God speaks, He must always have the child’s attention. So do not indulge in frivolous Bible story books which degrade God’s word to entertaining comics or to nice little tales on the level of myths and fables. The standard must not be entertainment value, but faithfulness to God’s word.
6. Arts and Crafts
Young children learn more through their senses. They need more hands on manipulatives before age ten. Give them plenty of time to experiment with art and crafts and thereby develop their elementary creativity.
In the main room of your house, or wherever it is you read to the children and spend the most time, keep a low shelf stocked with good quality colored pencils, crayons, or markers, paints, paper, scissors, glue, clay, wallpaper sample books, fabric sample books, matting board scraps, sewing, knitting, and crocheting supplies. Next to this shelf you may have a small table with chairs where the children can easily work on their projects while you read to them. Younger children can do crafts while the older ones are being helped with math or science. Art and craft projects can be sent to relatives, made into gifts, given to residents at the nursing home, entered into contests, taken to the county fair, or simply displayed in the home. In our home, we have framed many of the children’s works, and the walls are covered with the results.
One of the most useful things I ever purchased for my girls was a bag of fabric scraps from a lady who did sewing and alterations. The bag cost me only five dollars, but was filled with all kinds of scraps of silks, satins, velvets, and wools. The girls were quite young at the time, and they had very elementary skills at sewing, but those first few efforts at turning the scraps into doll clothes fed their desire to learn more. They quickly passed me in ability, and eventually taught themselves tailoring and pattern making, such that now they make vintage clothing reproductions. All this came out of a bag of scraps. I made sure that they had all of the time and the materials which they needed for their projects, and I provided the place for them to work. The sewing machine, the art shelf, and the tables were always handy and accessible for all of the children. Their projects could be left setting out until finished. (Nothing may be more discouraging to a budding artist than to be required to put away a half finished project.)
Do not allow your child to do arts and crafts on the computer. The mouse does not teach manipulation nearly so well as a lump of clay or a square block. Computers may be wonderful tools in their place. This is not their place.
7. Field Trips
Take field trips frequently. Take time to attend concerts and plays, museums and exhibits. Visit workplaces. Give your child experiences from which to build his understanding of the world — experiences he will draw upon and perhaps revisit when he is older.
Do not let your child explore the world only from a cathode ray tube. Children need real experiences to relate to. Seeing a jet take off on television is not the same as seeing a jet take off in front of you. Hearing an orchestra on television or radio is not the same as hearing an orchestra in person. Watching a computer simulation of a scientific experiment, or watching a video of it, is not the same as doing it in front of your very own eyes. Yes, you can learn some things by the tube. But it is not the same. There are also some things which you are not learning.
When the child is four or five, begin attending your local Science and Engineering Fair. Observe all of the different kinds of projects and experiments. Encourage the child to think of what kind of experiment he could enter when he is thirteen (in the Logic Stage).
If I had to do it all over again, I would have bought our microscope and dissecting kit when my children were young (age six or seven) and have taught them to use this equipment even at that young age. I would also have bought a good telescope, binoculars, basic chemistry equipment (beakers, test tubes, burners, etc, not necessarily any chemicals) for them to experiment with. I would have set up a section of the house with this equipment spread out and ready to use whenever my child wanted. Of course, they would be taught how to keep everything safe and neat and orderly. In other words, when the child is young (in the early Grammar Stage) I would spend my money on tools, instead of workbooks. I would motivate him to enjoy using the tools and to learn how to use the tools.
Early on, form the habit of visiting the library on a weekly basis. At a young age, the child will become familiar with where the different assortments of books are to be found and how to ask the librarian for help. Later, you will teach the child to use the computer catalog and the reference section of the library. Around age thirteen (which is the beginning of the Logic Stage), take your child to a good college library and familiarize him with doing research using the Library of Congress system. At age fifteen, take him to a large university library. By the time a child is eighteen, he should know how to perform research in any library.
The first time I ever visited a library will forever be impressed upon my mind. My Grandma Haigh took me to one of the tiny branches of the Des Moines Public Library when I was no more than eight years old. To this day, I can recall the wonder and amazement which filled me when I saw all of those books. After that visit, I yearned to have a library card of my own. It was another three years before my wish was fulfilled. In 1963, when I was eleven, my family moved to San Diego, and there we were given a free card to the public library. For the year we lived in California, every Monday night after doing the grocery shopping, we would visit the library. I began at the “A’s” in the juvenile fiction section, checking out six books every week. I do not remember how far I went down the alphabet, but that “year of the library” provoked in me a life time love for reading.
Protecting a Child in the Library
Question: Our library children’s room is largely filled with light reading and pop-culture rubbish. My seven-year-old son loves to read, and he will read anything, so I must be careful when I take him to the library. Though I direct him to the good books, he often ends up with some rubbish. What is the point in my taking him to the library if I then refuse to take home the ones which he picks out? He loves to go to the library, and I do not want to quench his desire.
Libraries have become dangerous places for children. The covers alone on some books on display are very wicked. It may come to the point where you must pick out the books for the children and bring them home. It may even come to the point where you do not want to be seen in the library yourself. But then how will your children learn to do library research? Since you are in a situation where you have only one library to which to go, then you will have to work with the situation. The Caldecott books are usually safe. Do they have these books in a separate section of the library? Is there a little table somewhere in the library where you could all park your things, and the children can sit and look at the books which you bring to them? If you are unsure of which books would be good for your children to read, then find and work through a recommended reading list from someone whom you trust. You will teach your son how to pick out the good books by picking out the books for him at first, explaining to him what kind of books you do not want him to read. Explain to him that if he is not sure whether you would approve of a particular book, then he must bring it to you and ask. Explain to him that you are teaching him to be a discerning reader. I am afraid Christians are going to have to abandon the libraries some day. We need to build our own libraries. If possible, build up your own personal library. I am buying books for my grandchildren.
8. Work and Service
Develop in your child a love for work and service. From the time a child is able to walk and talk he should be given regular chores to perform. We do not mean simply feeding the dog and making his bed. A five year old is quite capable of putting the dishes away and folding the laundry. A ten year old can prepare simple meals from start to finish. Children of all ages can clean and straighten the house. The mother should not be picking up things from off of the floor. Your goal should be that by the time a child is in his teens, he is able to take over the work of the household, from cooking to cleaning to caring for his younger brothers and sisters. This not only teaches them to appreciate work while removing some of the burden from the parents, but it is good training for when they have their own households.
Do not do for your child what he can do for himself. We need to reject all of this popular “self-esteem” stuff. The world’s problems can be summarized in one simple expression: too much self-esteem. Too many people think they are too good for what they get in life. They think they deserve better. And among the things which foster such notions is parents fawning over their little children. For the first year of his life, you pretty much need to do everything for him. But after that, the situation should begin to change rapidly. He can learn to do many things for himself in the next couple of years. He can clean up his own messes.
An important corollary to this is: Do not do for yourself what your child can do for you. Your child needs to esteem himself lower than others, beginning with his parents. He can gather the clothes for laundry, and he can fold the laundry. Then he can do the laundry. He can set the table and wash the dishes. Then he can help fix the meals. He can vacuum the floor and dust the furniture. Then he can wash the windows. If you do all of this for him, then he will get a notion of self-esteem: “I am so important everyone ought to do things for me.” But if he learns to do it for himself, then he will get a notion of self-confidence: “I can do it myself.” And if he learns to do it for you, then he will get a notion of self-usefulness: “I can be helpful and I am needed around here.”
We suggest that you write out a schedule of chores for each child. Some families rotate chores on a weekly basis, while other families prefer to give each child permanent chores, changing them only after several months or when needed. However you choose to do it, the schedule should be well organized, listing who does what and when. You should post the family schedule in a prominent location. Make sure the results for not obeying are clearly understood. When our children were young, I did not write out a chore schedule. I would give out orders randomly and inconsistently. Because the children did not know what was expected of them, I ended up doing the majority of the work. Later, when we put together an organized schedule, dividing up the work among all five children, our life moved much more smoothly. At first, all five children took turns cooking the main meal. After suffering with the boys’ cooking for a few months, we rearranged the schedule so that only the girls cooked. It will take a while for you to fine tune your chore schedule. Be flexible: make changes as children grow older and mature.
Along with work, children should be taught to serve. We visited the residents of a nursing home on a regular basis. When we visited, we simply walked in and began talking to one of the elderly people. Most of the residents were not able to communicate, so we just keep trying until we found someone we were able to communicate with. Some cannot communicate, but enjoy having someone holding their hand. We would eventually find two or three people with whom we wanted to be friends. If you should try nursing home visitation, I suggest during your first visits that the mother and father do the talking, and the children just walk beside you and listen.
There are many of other volunteering opportunities around us. Our girls crocheted tiny baby booties from thread for different pro-life organizations. When a mother has a positive pregnancy test she is given a pair of these booties as her first baby present. Many of these mothers have every intention of getting an abortion, and it is our hope that the sight of these tiny booties will bring them to their natural senses. Another area of need is in the neonatal Intensive Care Unit of your local hospital. They need hospital gowns for the tiny babies born there and clothes for the babies going home. There is a need for bereavement gowns for babies which die.
We have found in our own experience that if the area of discipline is neglected, then we may as well forget about academics altogether. Children will never learn self-discipline if parents do not train them in it. The child who does not develop self-discipline will fail in many things — including the academics you are preparing him for.
Ask yourself these questions: Am I satisfied with the obedience of my children? Do I enjoy being around my children? Do my children honor and respect me? If your answer is “no” to any of these questions, then you should re-evaluate your priorities. If you do not have first time obedience from children of all ages, your homeschool journey will be beset with all number of difficulties.
Do not allow your child to ignore you. You are the immediate reason for why he is alive. When you tell him something, make sure he hears you. When you read to him, do not let his attention wander too far. Of course, be sensitive. There are going to be times when he has something he needs to think about, and you may need to leave him do so. But do not let him shut you out. No, we do not live up to that standard. But that should be the standard by which we measure.
Do not let your child rule you. Let him rule himself. A man must rule himself before he can rule others. (Think of all of the offices which have become inverted because of men who could not first rule themselves.) Nobody learns to rule himself by obeying his own desires. He can only learn to rule himself by obeying another’s desires. There must be something larger than himself to serve. (That is why the concept of God is inescapable. If you do not follow the true God, then you have to invent a substitute god to serve a similar function.) If you can teach your child to know himself and rule himself, then he will be able to rule that part of the world which you give to him, and eventually that part of the world of which God places him in stewardship
During one of our trips, we visited a family which lived a very simple life in a very modest home, and homeschooled their five small children. The parents were quite soft spoken and gentle in manner, always speaking to the children in a calm, quiet way. From the very beginning of our visit, it became obvious that the children “attended” to the voices of their parents. The parents had first time obedience from even the youngest, and this obedience was obtained with a quiet voice and manner. In all my life, I have never witnessed anything like it. On one occasion, the one year old began to climb up on the kerosene heater. I saw the father give an almost imperceptible shake of the head and heard him say in a whisper, “Isaac, huh, uh.” Immediately the child shifted into reverse and backed away from the heater. The child attended to and obeyed the very whisper of his father. It moves me to tears to recall that scene and the affection which the children and parents had for each other. Oh, that I had trained my children so well when they were young. God wants first time obedience from us, and we should form the same habit in our children. When we resort to speaking in a loud voice when we want something of our children, or when we form the habit of repeating our requests, we train our children to ignore us when we speak. If we could only begin at the very beginning to train our children to attend to our voice — to listen for it no matter what they are doing, and to immediately obey, how well we will prepare them to listen to their heavenly father as well.
Does Not Want to Work
Question: I find myself “putting up” for far too long with the rolling of the eyes, the unhappiness, the stomping. Now, what do I do with a young lady, sixteen, who wants to read all day and do nothing else — no cleaning, no chores, no cooking, no gardening? Did you come across this with your children, and if so, how did you deal with it?
Do you mean that she will not obey you when asked to clean or cook? Or is it that she only does the minimum that you require and spends the rest of her time reading? I picture a sixteen-year-old daughter as being able to take over the running of the household. If the mother has to be gone for a few days, the daughter should be able to take care of the house: the cleaning, cooking, laundry, answering the phone, and perhaps caring for one or two little ones. Perhaps she will not keep the house as thoroughly clean as mother does, and perhaps the meals will not be as elaborate, but at age sixteen she can run a relatively orderly household. All this should be done cheerfully and willingly.
Some mothers will expect these things of their daughters, but not give the child any freedom in making some of the decisions as to how these things are done. For example, the daughter is expected to prepare the meals, but is not allowed to decide what she will serve. I suggest that a sixteen-year-old could be planning the meals (with some of mother’s help), shopping for the food, and preparing the meals. That is how we do it in our house. I allow the girls to decide when they will do the laundry. As long as it is finished before bedtime, they can do it whenever they want. I do not tell them when to clean their rooms, but they know they are to keep them neat. I am referring to older children here. Little ones need to be trained, so you would have more rules and time schedules, but older children have already been trained and need less “do this now and this way” type rules.
I think children find more satisfaction in their chores if they know they are “in charge” of something and they know they have full responsibility. My older daughters love it when I give them the food money for the week and let them take charge. I do have a problem with them not wanting to use up all the zucchini I get from the garden, but we are working on that.
Now, perhaps your problem is that the sixteen-year-old just will not obey. If you write out and explain to her exactly what is expected from her — which goes beyond chores to attitudes and behaviors — and what will happen if she does not do them, then she has no excuse. You know what you have to do. The Bible tells you that you must respond to the disobedience. Take away her reading time. Fine her money. Take away privileges. Require more work from her, such as picking up trash on the roadway. Apply academics to the problem and have her write an essay concerning her disobedience. This will require her to think it through.
How much of the problem is you? Who is boss in your family? Often we parents do not consistently enforce obedience. Sometimes we make them obey and at other times we are too tired or it is too inconvenient to make them obey. Perhaps we are at the store or we have company or we have been working all day or we are just plain weary. We make excuses for the child, or for ourselves. Homeschooling is more than Latin and logic. It is a way of life. And that way of life includes having disciplined children, and encouraging loving relationships within the family. We want peace in our homes.
Peace in the Home
Question: You said the goal is to have peace in the home. How do you accomplish that? I grew up in a non-Christian home where everyone was always fighting, and I do not want our family to turn out that way. Our children are much better behaved than my siblings and I were, but they still spend too much time fighting and crabbing at each other.
In our travels we have stayed with quite a few families. Here are some of my observations:
In families where peace reigns, we notice that the children have respect for Father and Mother. You can see it in their faces. The children want to please their parents. When children are made to understand the order and purpose of things, and they live out their role in that order and purpose — that is peace. Of course, wise parents rule and control their family and household with kindness and gentleness and tender loving care. They are fallen creatures themselves, and are not always wise. But the more the family matches the ideal, the more peace reigns.
In families where peace does not reign, we notice that the children lack respect for the Father and Mother. They know that their parents are intent on pleasing them, and they use this as a manipulative tool. The household revolves around the child and his likes or dislikes, his moods, his desires. When the child is displeased, uncomfortable, or inconvenienced, the parents consistently go out of their way to please the child. They think their little child is so smart, or cute, or witty. In other words, the order and purpose and roles of this family are inverted, and anything which might resemble peace for a moment is just a temporary lapse in the ongoing war over who is in charge.
Children may know how to speak and understand words, but this does not mean that communication is happening at the level which it should. We cannot assume that they will come to us and tell us what is bothering them. If we detect something wrong with an attitude or an action, then we need to discuss it with our child. Do not wait until the action or attitude gets unbearable. There was a time when our then seventeen-year-old daughter began to treat her then fourteen-year-old sister very coldly. She was excluding her from things, not confiding in her any more, and siding up with the youngest daughter. It began slowly, and we did not really notice it until it had been happening for perhaps four or five months. The fourteen-year-old had to come to me and point it out. Only when she pointed it out did I see it. Something can begin so small, yet if you do not catch it, it can grow very big, and you still have to have it pointed out to you. By the time I began to address the issue, the fourteen-year-old was angry with her sister for treating her that way. It took several weeks to get the matter straightened out. The seventeen-year-old did not even realize what she was doing. She repented, her sister forgave her, and we had to go through several weeks of pointing out to the older one when she was exhibiting the undesirable behavior (acting coldly to her sister). She had developed the habit of treating her sister that way, and I had to help her break the habit. Praise God, He put the desire in her to change. But, what if the older one did not repent and preferred to treat her sister coldly, for whatever reason? Then I would have to enforce proper behavior.
Question: Regarding the eye-rolling and ‘humphs,’ with a little puff of air which blows her hair up: Am I at fault for asking my daughter to do various chores, keeping her “on call” for things which need to be done at her own convenience, though not on the chart? Do I verbally correct her on the spot? Even that little “humph” can grow into something more as a child gets older, so I think it does need some punishment, but what and how? Should I have a planned “punishment” for every little “humph?”
I think you have already answered your own question. The little “humph” clearly communicates disrespect. What would have happened to a lady-in-waiting at Queen Victoria’s court if she had responded with a “humph” to one of the Queen’s requests? You are the Queen in your house and Daddy is the King. All the little ones are servants in training.
It is good to have a schedule of chores and activities and responsibilities posted so that everyone knows what is expected of them, but there will always be extra things to do which cannot be put on a chart. The children should be happy (if not inwardly, at least outwardly) to perform these tasks for Mommy.
Wait Until Daddy Gets Home
Question: What about discipline for the eight-year-old boy? If he does not do his chores, or if he does something he has been told not to do, then is waiting until his father gets home for the discipline a good idea, or is that waiting too long?
Punishment delayed loses its proper force, and introduces other forces. So explain the law, administer the punishment, and go on with the day. Otherwise, the day may be ruined as everyone is just waiting “until Father gets home.” There may be some things which need to be adjudicated by Father, but Mother should be able to handle most matters. Mother can give her court report when Father gets home, and he can make any further adjustments at that time.
Question: My thirteen-year-old son is slower in math, so I let him set the pace. He is also “allergic” to pencils and I am wondering how much is enough writing for him this year. I do not want to encourage laziness, but I also do not want to exasperate him!
One of the most challenging things which I have dealt with in our homeschooling is a boy (ages ten to fifteen) who seemed allergic to academic pursuits. One of our five children was like this. He has plenty of inertia: If he is at rest, then he tends to stay at rest, but once you get him moving, he keeps on moving. It is the “get him moving” part which is the difficulty. Somewhere along the way, someone failed to install a starter motor, so we had to crank him to “get him moving.” Like you said, we certainly did not want to encourage his laziness, nor exasperate him, yet we needed to “get him moving” and challenge him. If it is any encouragement to you, our son is now a good writer. When he turned fifteen, he discovered that he could write creatively, and he even discovered he enjoyed writing — somewhat, though we are still trying to get that newly installed starter motor to work more consistently.
Here are some of the right things I think we did with him:
- 1. Up until about age fourteen or so, we did much of his math orally, and sometimes I would do the writing for him. He dictated to me the problem and the steps to the answer and I held the pencil and did the writing. This in no way interfered with his understanding of math, but on the contrary, I think it helped him to learn to enjoy math. Later, he was able to go through the Saxon Algebra books, Jacobs Geometry and Saxon Advanced Math book with no help at all.
- 2. I think television, video games, and computer games and most computer software are especially dangerous to boys like this. I am very thankful that we kept our son away from these influences.
- 3. I am thankful the Lord moved us into the country when the children were young. Peer influence seems to be stronger on unmotivated boys.
10. Play and Exploration
Give the child plenty of time to explore and play. Do not buy “toystore” toys — they are expensive and are usually forgotten after the newness wears off. Invest in real things. Garage sales and auctions are an unending source for things like sewing machines, small tools for working in the garden, hammers, nails, and things for building, some wooden blocks, and dress-up clothes. Buy tools for exploring (a good microscope, telescope, binoculars, dissecting equipment, basic chemistry equipment, etc.), not toys for adoring. Teach your children how to use them responsibly (safe, neat, and orderly — clean up when you are done), and make them readily available for when they want to use them.
It is not only important that you do some things, it is important that you not do some things. It always seems like there are more do not’s than there are do’s. Do not set your child in front of a television screen. Television is bad. We mean the screen itself. It is unhealthy for the body, and especially for the eyes. Visual strain is the number-one problem of frequent computer users. Studies estimate that anywhere from fifty to ninety percent of regular computer users experience visual deterioration.
The material on the screen is also bad. The entertainment method of learning creates a sort of entertainment addiction — the child wants to be entertained all of the time — he wants his visual and auditory senses stimulated (overstimulated). Every child needs to learn to spell through touch and taste and smell, and through interaction with real human beings who smile and answer back. He needs to learn in submission to the authority of real parents, not the authority of glamorized, always-happy, limitlessly-resourceful, never-tired substitutes who have absolutely no accountability. Need we say more?
Do not let your child waste away. You will have to discover the happy medium between giving your child enough time of his own and giving your child too much time of his own. If he has too little time, he will not develop his own thoughts. If he has too much time, he will pursue mischief, or at least no profitable ends. Give him something to think on when he has nothing to do. Memorization fills the mind with things to teethe his mind on and ponder.
Do not let your child play in a cyber world. He can play in a miniature world. He can play in a pretend world. But it must be made up of objects which exist in the real three-dimensional world, not electrons hitting an opaque, two dimensional phosphorescent screen. Why? Because — though he may learn something from the screen image, there are nevertheless many things which he is not learning precisely because it is only a screen image. Besides the missing sensory experiences (touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing — three dimensionally), there are logical things missing (such as consequences in the real world).
When the Computer substitutes for the functions and processes which the brain normally supplies, the brain is left to atrophy. It does not develop its brain muscles, as it were. No pain no gain. Do not use it, you lose it.
Excessive use of computers, especially at early ages, will restructure the way the brain processes information, often for the worse. It also causes the underdevelopment of the emotional and social dimensions of the child. Young children are developing many parts of their understanding, and “holes” can occur in their development if they are deprived of certain experiences during critical periods of time. These may not be discovered until much later. For example, a child may test perfect for hearing, yet because of a period of head colds earlier in his life, he was not hearing properly while his discernment of speech sounds was developing, so though he hears speech perfectly, he does not properly discern in his mind what his ears are perfectly hearing. Because you know he can hear well, you think he does not pay careful attention, so you punish him. You do not realize that he cannot pay careful attention, and that you need to train him in a missing skill.
Televisions and computers can be useful tools under the proper circumstances and controls. But they are like fire — a useful servant, but a terrible master. There are many legitimate reasons to doubt their value for children below the age of ten, especially in preparation for classical academic education.
A Suggested Daily Schedule for Families With Children All Under the Age of Ten
Schedules are made as a standard to serve you, not as a master to break you. Do not be a slave to the schedule, but also do not be a slave to the emergency mindset which always interrupts the schedule. The following is only a suggested guideline. It gives you some of the categories from which to work up your own schedule.
Principles: The children should be doing much of the housework, which will free the parents to give attention to personal or administrative tasks. “Early to bed, early to rise” is generally a good policy, though a father’s work schedule or other considerations may not allow for this.
- 5:00-6:30 Parents rise, children rise, showers, dressing, early morning chores.
- 7:00 Breakfast. Morning Family Worship.
- 8:00 Daily Chores (predetermined schedule).
- 8:30-9:30 General School Meeting:
- 1. Recite Memory work: All children could recite their memory work (including Greek and/or Hebrew alphabet).
- 2. Practice Reading: Children who are able to read can read aloud a portion of something while all others listen (Bible, History, Constitution, Poetry, etc.).
- 3. Practice narration: All children practice narration (if there are several children, break it up, half in the morning and half in the afternoon).
- 9:30-10:15 Mother reads aloud to all children (narration could be worked in here). Children can work on arts and crafts while Mother reads.
- 1. Phonics instruction for children learning to read and entries made in English Language Notebook. (This could be moved to the afternoon when infants are sleeping.)
- 2. Work on History Notebook (if you have begun one) and Timeline.
- 3. Copywork.
- 11:30 Prepare lunch. Straighten house.
- 12:00 Lunch. Midday chores.
- 1:00 Naps.
- 2:00-2:45 Mother reads aloud and finishes up narration (children can work on arts and crafts).
- 2:45-4:30 Same as 10:15 time period; play outside; go for walks; once a week volunteer work (nursing home, etc.), field trips, and library.
- 4:30-5:00 Prepare supper. Straighten house.
- 5:00 Supper. Evening chores.
- 6:30 Evening Family Worship.
- 7:00-7:45 Father reads aloud to family.
- 7:45-8:30 Family activities.
- 8:30-9:00 Prepare for bed.
- 9:00 Lights out.