The Focus of Education

In all of my curriculum research, I’ve come to a greater understanding of the way different curriculum providers choose to focus their curriculum, philosophically.

For example, there’s classical education done The Well Trained Mind way. More than anything else, the focus of studies for this philosophy is history. Yes, the classical method is important here, as far as the different stages of learning, and using appropriate activities and materials for each stage, but at the center you find the four-year history cycle, and emphasis on being familiar with the whys and wherefores of what has happened in the past.

Then there’s education, Sonlight-style. The focus of this program is great literature. It’s not really classical, although it does get into the four-year cycle eventually, in a Sonlight kind of way. But there are tons of great books in this program, both to be read aloud, and for the children to read to themselves. I don’t think any other program “requires” the reading of so much great literature by their students.

There are other philosophies that lean toward classical, but in different ways. My Father’s World, for example, is classical-ish, but focuses on the Bible. However, it also ties in elements of unit studies and Charlotte Mason philosophy. So, you get the best of many worlds, here–great Bible instruction within the four-year history cycle, and lots of fun hands on activities, nature walks, and a gentle introduction into Language Arts.

There are also companies who focus solely on the Charlotte Mason method, such as Winterpromise. Again, lots of nature studies, family discussion, and hands-on activities. Notebooking is also an important part of this program, but the four-year history cycle really is not. As a matter of fact, they go so far as to say that the four-year cycle may repeat too much, which is a very different philosophy.

Heart of Dakota is another Charlotte Mason style curriculum, but with a heavier emphasis on religious education. Like My Father’s World, it is intended to be used by students of different ages, at least for the history, science, and religion segments–math and language arts, of course, need to be supplemented according to each student’s ability, and there are extension packages available to make the program more challenging for older students.

The Latin Centered Curriculum is another classical method, and, much like The Well Trained Mind, it is a book of suggestions for materials, and not a curriculum company. As its title suggests, The Latin Centered Curriculum places the focus on the study of Latin, even eventually studying great works in their original language. In a way, this is almost a grammar and language arts focused program. I have found that nothing teaches my children English grammar better than learning Latin, and I’m assuming the same would hold true with a Latin-focused program.

Different countries, (or continents, as the case may be), around the world also have different educational focuses. In Europe, for example, it could be argued that the focus is on foreign languages. Students start learning a foreign language in grade school, and continue learning it throughout their schooling–there is no simply being done with it, as we usually see after two (or sometimes four) years of foreign language here in America. They also continue adding additional foreign languages every few years, so that a European student might be fluent in three or four languages by the time he or she is done with school.

In Asia, the primary course of study is definitely math (and, more recently, science). Math programs have sprung up in the U.S., attempting to mimic this style of learning. Mental math is very important in Asian math programs, more so than the spiral method which is so common here. And there’s no doubt, looking at the test scores, that it’s working–Asian students routinely score very highly in math and the sciences.

Of course, these are all generalizations, but it’s interesting to me to see what different people like to emphasize in education. Sometimes it’s cultural, sometimes it’s religious, sometimes it’s a philosophy. But everyone has a reason for teaching the way they do, and for centering their studies around whatever subject they choose.

As for us, I try to balance our subjects, but I definitely have my favorites, as well. I love learning through literature, particularly historical literature, so the four-year history cycle is very appealing to me. I also have a strong desire to study and learn as much Latin as possible, both for my children and myself. I guess you could call us eclectic. The most important thing, though, is finding what works for your children, and taking full advantage of all the opportunities for learning that you can!

Why We Homeschool

It may be easier to start with things that are *not* reasons for our decision to homeschool.

We do *not* homeschool primarily for religious reasons. I am very grateful that I can share Scripture readings with my children every morning, that we have catechisis right in school, that we can talk about God when we discuss science and history and art and any other subjects where He is brought up. But this was not the top reason we chose to homeschool.

We do *not* homeschool to shelter our children. Yes, I will decide when to introduce some concepts, and I may filter certain things for them, but we will (and have) discuss tough subjects. I feel that our children need to know about things they will encounter out in the real world (such as evolution), so that they know how to respond. But I will make sure that I share that information in age-appropritate (and individual child-appropriate) ways.

We do *not* homeschool because I can’t let go. I had to send Moose off to school when he was barely three, which was very hard for me, and goes against my personal belief that barring special circumstances (autism, in this case), children that young belong at home. I did it anyway. And if I *had* to send Turkey, Bunny and Ladybug to the public school, I would, just as I send them off to Sunday School, VBS, Fall Bible School, and for some of my children, mornings at MOPS, even when they were only a few weeks old.

We do *not* homeschool because the public schools are intrinsically terrible. Actually, we think we’re pretty fortunate to live in the disctrict we’re in, because Moose has received so much help. I have met caring teachers, great adminstrtors, and a good support staff at our school. Just because the public school is not the best choice for Turkey and Bunny doesn’t mean that I think it’s a cesspool unable to meet students’ needs.

We *do* homeschool for several reasons. First of all, we *do* homeschool to give our children an individualized education. Yes, we follow a standard curriculum. But when it comes to special themed units, field trips, and spontaneous moments of study, I can tailor our studies to Turkey and Bunny’s particular interests. We’ve learned about space and heroes of the Revolutionary War. We’ve traveled around the world at Christmas, learning about countries that are interesting to us, or that represent our family heritage. If we want to learn about something, we do it.

We *do* homeschool to challenge our children. By having school at home, I can once again tailor their education to where they are at, academically. They don’t have to stay behind on a subject because that’s where the rest of the class is at. I don’t have to cater to the lowest common denominator. We’ve stepped up Language Arts in a big way for that exact reason. When I see that they’re bored because they already know something we’re studying, I can just move on, and we can learn something new.

We *do* homeschool because Bunny is gifted. I don’t say this to brag; it’s simply the truth. And she is a large part of the reason we chose to homeschool. I can’t imagine how bored she would be in a regular first grade class (the grade she *should* be in–at home she gets to be in second grade, which is appropriate for her ability level), and how little she would be learning at this point. And since most gifted programs have been axed in the school district, I think it’s even more important that she can learn in an environment where she can truly flourish.

We *do* homeschool because we want to provide our children with a classical education. I’m not saying I follow The Well Trained Mind to the letter, but that book *was* what pushed us over the edge for homeschooling (because that was something we were *never* going to do!). I do think it’s important for children to learn Latin at a young age (we get to start our Latin curriculum in a few short weeks!), and I think it’s also important to memorize at a young age, because children are such little sponges. As I don’t know of any public schools that offer classical education, and since the one Lutheran school around here that does is too far away, and way out of our price range, I’ll just have to provide that education at home.

We *do* homeschool because we want to provide a literature rich education. This is what I love most about Sonlight. Yes, it’s great to have the curriculum assembled for me, and I do love the instructor’s guide. But the most important thing about Sonlight, at least for our family, is that it provides such a rich foundation in literature. My children have read more books, both on their own, and as read-alouds in school, than I ever dreamed possible, and I know that aside from a few highly motivated individuals, their public school counterparts aren’t receiving the same introduction to literature and the pleasure of reading.

There are many reasons we homeschool, and many reasons that were not a factor in our decision. We may not look like the typical homeschooling family, but what *is* typical, anyway?