Homeschooling Classically


We are deeply invested in our Classical Conversations community (I am the director, after all!).  I love the classical Christian approach to education.  It is my goal that my children learn how to learn at a young age and use that skill to make learning a part of their life even as adults.  I think a lot of people misunderstand the classical philosophy and see it as an intense, rigid approach to education.  However, if you really look at the nuts and bolts of what this educational model is, it is very developmental.  Yes, there are lots of facts to learn (and no, we probably do not do it as well as we could), but it is also about reading lots of great literature and building step upon step.

I love how the Dorothy Sayer’s The Lost Tools of Learning compares it to how a carpenter is trained.  First he is taught what each tool is and what it does.  Then, he is taught to use it (dialectic). Finally, he is let loose to use it make what he wants to make (rhetoric).

We’re in the learning what the tools are stage (grammar).  All of these facts that my kids are introduced to are making pegs for their future learning.  I am reminded of high school science classes that were a challenge for me.  There was soooo much information.  The vocabulary was enough to drown me, but then I had to remember what those terms meant and then apply them in labwork.  My kids are being introduced to lots of that vocabulary right now.  They may not fully remember it by the time they hit high school, but it will be in their brains somewhere and hopefully, they will be able to make some connections.

In my Masters coursework in Reading Education, I learned that a key factor in ease of learning to read is prior knowledge.  For example, if a city child had never been to the farm, reading a book about the farm would present a larger challenge in comprehension than for a child who grew up on or near farms. Although I won’t be able to time travel with my kids and take them to see historical events, as they memorize the timeline and we delve a little deeper with books and discussions, they will build some amount of prior knowledge that will set them on the right foot to begin deeper learning as they move into more advanced study at later ages.

As adults, we look at all of the memorization as a huge, difficult chore (akin to cleaning bathrooms?!).  However, our children were designed with minds like sponges, and what takes me the whole week to memorize, they are spouting off to me in one day.  As one of my friends reminds me, they will memorize something – Star Wars characters, every word to their favorite picture book, the theme song from Frozen – so we might as well redeem that gift and fill their minds with knowledge that they will use throughout life (and not just to win at a pop culture trivia contest!).


“Leaf” It to Him


As we settled into our new home in Washington, one of the ways God totally went beyond our expectations was our yard guy.  I’m never quite sure what to call him – yard guy, landscaper, miracle worker, mind reader, jack of all trades…

We called Brent after finding recommendations for his lawn company, Leaf It To Me, on both Angie’s List and Yelp.  Our new home had great landscaping but needed a little clean up.  The first way Brent amazed was in his promptness.  We called in the morning.  He arrived to give an estimate in the afternoon and the next day, he had a crew of men here beautifying our entire yard.

In the coming month, Brent and his crew became a fixture around our house and Brent went from owner of the lawn company to family friend.  The kids referred to him as “Uncle” Brent and still cheer if they think they see his truck pull up in front of the house.

"Uncle" Brent

“Uncle” Brent

One of the "visionary" ideas fresh from the mind of Brent, a true kid at heart

One of the “visionary” ideas fresh from the mind of Brent, a true kid at heart

Tom  found a fellow visionary, who took his ideas and made them come to life.  This was both really cool and also fear inducing (for me!).  One of those visionary ideas was a chicken coop.  We’d been joking (half serious) about getting chickens for over a year.  I would read about it and get excited but never fully embrace the idea.  However, Brent doesn’t have any fear of these ideas and between Tom’s enthusiasm and Brent’s energy, we hadn’t been here a month and we had a chicken coop in our back yard.  The only thing left was chickens, which I daily reminded both men, we were not getting any time soon!

Brent continually asked me when he could go get chickens and I continually told him it would be a long time before I said yes.  After putting him off for a week or two, he started filling the nesting boxes with treats for the kids.  First it was golf balls.  Ha! Ha!  Then, silly putty (in the egg shaped containers).  Next, he started getting creative – CHICKlets, CHICK-o-sticks…garage sale finds of plastic chickens, a chicken candle…The kids started heading out there daily to see if any treats had been left.

Finally, the men and children broke me.  I succumbed to the pressure and agreed to add some hens to our household.  One morning in late July, I told Brent I was ready for chickens…less than 3 hours later, our coop was full of clucking ladies.

Pepper and Henny Penny, two of our 6 egg layers

Pepper and Henny Penny, two of our 6 egg layers


Christmas Break (aka, Unschooling)


Yesterday, we returned to life lived in daily rhythm.

Oooh, that sounds so pretty, doesn’t it?  Basically, it means that we re-implemented the structure of school to our weekday life…and it wasn’t as pretty as it sounds.  It was good to get back to normal, though.  We loved our restful break, but I think, we were craving our rhythm.

When I began this post, I intended to tell you how we hadn’t done any school for an entire month.  Then, I started to think about what we did do.  It turns out that we did a lot more than any of us realized…

When I read about unschooling families, it is intriguing to me but not a philosophy I embrace in our own daily approach.  However, I suppose I could look at our school breaks as more of our unschooling seasons.  Although our routine was off and we weren’t doing formal lessons, I know my kids did lots of learning.  

  • We read the book Jotham’s Journey, as we celebrated Advent and Christmas.  From that book, we had lots of conversations about faith, learned new vocabulary words, talked about many different aspects of Jewish tradition, were introduced to the Dead Sea Scrolls…and so much more.
  • We read both A Christmas Carol and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and then, watched the movies.  Both times, we had great discussions about the similarities and differences between the books and movies.
  • We read a book about Saint Nicholas, where both kids recognized some facts from our History Timeline (about Diocletian and Constantine!)
  • We learned to play a few new games (including, Chess), built puzzles, and created with Legos.
  • We hiked through the park behind our house and noticed moss on trees, birds’ nests and a plethora of other beautiful and strange aspects  of God’s creation.
  • There was lots of imagining and pretending.
  • Some money figuring, as the kids budgeted for Christmas presents.
  • There was thank you note writing.
  • And diary writing
  • And note writing
  • And list making
  • Oh, and a trip to the Science Museum.
  • Tom taught both kids how to throw a football.

I’m sure that list is just the tip of the iceberg.  I know some of that sounds like a lot of playtime, which truly is learning, by the way.  However, the other thing that made it really rich is that Tom and I try to be intentional about talking with our kids and sharing knowledge with them.  I am often amazed by what they process as we discuss and share with them.  It is a good reminder to me that they do, indeed, love learn.