How We Apply the Classical Christian Approach to Our Homeschool

By Cheryl Atkinson (http://magicref.tripod.com)
Written July 03/ revised Jan 2005
      
    The majority of this was written in July 2003 to help a friend who wanted to home school her children using the Christian Classical Approach, but had a hard time understanding how to get it working and what it would look like.  She was intimidated with the prospect of trying to "create" her own curriculum and asked if I would show her how I "do this". Note that at the time of this writing my children are ages 6, 8, and 10 and the approach will vary depending on your children's ages.

    This is not a perfect, one size fits all  method but rather a look into my home school to show how I have been functioning and working through the past four years.  Although most of what I use (along with my method and philosophy of education) has come for gleaning a variety of sources, the best resource for this approach has been the book, Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn. I strongly recommend this book before you start this approach as they do a fantastic job of explaining the reasons for educating your children this way as well as providing you with helpful information and further resources. My husband and I like this book so much we think it should be required reading for every Christian whether they home educate their children or not; it's that thought provoking and eye opening!  Their web site is http://www.triviumpursuit.com. You can get great information on this subject there and it will be a great place to start your research into Christian Classical home schooling.  

    It is my hope and prayer that if you are considering this kind of education but had reservations about it, that my small effort below will encourage you look further into this style of education.  May the Lord bless you as you pursue His goals for your family!      



    Before beginning the school year and again after spring break,  I type out a school schedule of what I strive to accomplish each day (two samples are linked below).  But, before I can make out a school schedule I need to know where I'm headed and what I will be using to accomplish my goals for that particular year. The most time intensive part of my school year is the beginning and end of each year.  At this time I prayerfully evaluate myself and each of my children, how the previous year went, and I ponder the course of the coming year.

    This is what I feel to be a crucial exercise to a successful school year. It is our responsibility to train up our children in the ways of the Lord.  To equip them to be good and effective warriors for the Kingdom of God and faithful pilgrims on their journey toward heaven, Lord willing! It is at this point I seek the King of King's direction for what areas He would like me to train his young warriors this year, what  materials I will need, how to use what I have to accomplish this, and to reveal to me areas that are blind spots for me as I am training and have taught up until this point. Blind spots are deficiencies that we have not been able to see by ourselves (thus, we are "blind" to them). However, during this exercise, I find that the Holy Spirit often opens my eyes to areas that I need to give more attention to.
    
    Often the Lord has revealed my many blind spots with books and tapes that someone had lent to me or perhaps a tape from a curriculum fair.  God is always faithful to supply the answers if we are humble enough to ask Him for help. When I think of all the times some form of material had crossed my path meeting my exact need at that time, tears well up in my eyes.  I know that we are not in this alone!!! He has truly led us by His own hand and has been teaching us to be more and more like Christ with each passing year.  I wonder....if we didn't homeschool our children, where would we be today?  It's through training my children that my faults and weaknesses are brutally exposed for the blatant sins they are. Praise God from whom all blessings flow for He's still working on me!

This is how I evaluate:
 
    First: I evaluate how each child is doing in the area of (first time) obedience, respect for parents, elders, peers, siblings, attitude problems( i.e. passive rebellion such as rolling eyes, sighing, mumbling a last word in), other character weaknesses (i.e. laziness, slothfulness, whining, complaining, etc.) What are the strengths and what are the weaknesses? What stories and Scriptures passages would help in the areas we have signs of weakness?

    Second: I determine what things I  think are important for them to memorize; such as, the books of the Bible, geography, music notes, math facts for rapid recall, German alphabet, Greek alphabet, poems, Scripture verses, Latin, etc.  I usually pick between two and  four topics (like those above) for the 12 week period and I alter them from week to week.  For example, a poem for a week or two if necessary until they can all successfully recite it back to me. Then on the same day after practicing the poem, we'll work on memorizing the states along the east coast using a memory song tape and our map.  We'll follow that with music note flash cards for the base clef. We'll practice all three of these daily for a week or two, until mastered.  Then I'll pick new memory projects following the same pattern above. After some time of these we'll do more areas  and some weeks are spent of review of past memorized information and poems. In summary: We'll go over each topic three or four times in a row in rehearsal and one topic after the other during the memorization time of the day.
       
    Third: Is the determination of what books to read.  Most of the decisions happen throughout the year as we are constantly looking for and purchasing "good" books. "Good" meaning books that will teach our children to live more like Christ through stories on character development, leaning on the Lord, prayer, walking on the narrow and difficult path, and such. My husband Doug brings home reviews from Christian web sites, we browse through some of the later mentioned catalogues, as well as those that come through the mail like CBD Homeschool catalogue that help to narrow down the choices. Our bookshelves are pretty full now, and so currently I mostly choose from what I have already purchased.

How to choose:
(The information below is summarized from Harvey & Laurie Bluedorn's Teaching The Trivium book, Chapter 8)

Ten Principles for choosing what to read
    
1. Do what is pleasing to the Lord.  Col.1:10, Heb 11:6, and Mat 18:6,7
"If you go places you ought not go, and see things you ought not see, and hear things you ought not hear, you'll end up doing things you ought not do."

2. Do not follow the world  Rom 12:2
"Do not allow the world to define you and all that you do, as you seek to please Him...Worldliness is bred by a lack of mature separation from the world and its philosophies."

3. Do not allow the world to follow you.  Jam 1:27 and Pro 4:23
"The world wants to be your friend - but only on their terms. There is no neutrality.  If a piece of literature cannot be used to build Christian culture in our children, then, no matter how neutral is may seem, it will be used to build something culturally anti-Christian in our children. The world will defile us, spot us, with ungodliness and worldly lusts...Where do we go to get our purity back?"

4. There is only so much time in a day.  Col 4:5
How can our time best be spent?

5.  Older doesn't necessarily mean better. Col 2:8
Just because it was written in the 1700 or 1800's for example, doesn't mean that it is "good" material for us to read.
     
6.  Is it profitable?  1Cor 6:12
We must bring things together in a helpful and profitable way that will contribute to Christian living.

7. Does this promote good habits?   1Cor 6:12

8. Will reading this further my education? 1 Cor. 10:23
"Edify means to build up, to promote proper growth....it is never edifying to dwell upon and explore the depths of depravity. Never." See also Pro 4:14,15, Eph 5:11,12.

9. Does the material have lasting value? 1Cor 7:31
"Only those things which are of the Lord are of lasting value. Everything else will pass away. If it cannot be redeemed for His use, then it is useless. If it cannot serve Biblical goals, then it will necessarily work to undermine Biblical foundations by pursuing other worldly goals."

10. When in doubt, leave it out.  Rom 14:23
Parents are subject to peer pressure as well - even classical Homeschooling peer pressure. Look back at your list of principles and stick to them.   

The majority of our reading books have come from:

1. Lamplighter Books:  http://www.lamplighterpublishing.com
2. Grace and Truth Books: http://www.graceandtruthbooks.com
3. Keepers of the Faith: http://www.keepersofthefaith.com

I highly recommend ordering a catalog from these companies.  Most, if not all their books are for promoting the Christians way of life by example. I haven't been disappointed yet with any of these companies. The last two companies offer their books at very inexpensive prices, most are paperback, and relatively short compared to most of the Lamplighter books.

It is also good to look through the Children's Books catalog (http://www.childrensbook.com), The Book Peddler (http://www.bookpeddler.com), and Rainbow Resource (http://www.rainbowresource.com). The latter two offer very descriptive entries for most books and resources they offer. Sometimes you can find Lamplighter books greatly discounted. If you know a book you are looking for or would like to read another review of materials or books  they are a good place to good to.  



    Math: For my children under ten years of age. I work on memorizing math facts as well as living math. By "living math", I mean such things as taking temperature readings from our outdoor thermometer, doubling or halving a cooking recipe, and so forth. Sometimes we'll plan on rearranging furniture, and they will measure the room and all the furniture. Then I have them make the room and furniture paper squares to a given scale, such as each foot will be represented by an inch. We will then arrange the room on paper before moving the actual furniture. We play games using math and thinking skills: chess, checkers, monopoly, Yahtzee, etc. We'll count money and give change. You can find so many things that use math skill in every day life.  My main goal is to show them how math is used everyday in life and most importantly to get all the math facts blazed into their minds so that when we move on to the higher math they will be able to recall the information effortlessly.

Harvey Bluedorn covers the subject of "delayed math" in Teaching the Trivium.  Some research indicates that you should not teach formal mathematics at too early an age. For more on delayed math please consult the Trivium Pursuit website.

    Science/ Health: I decide what areas would be interesting to study. For example, if one of the children have an interest in bats, then I'll consider getting vast information on bats.  First I'll check the books on our own shelves, and then then the local library for material and ideas to give a well rounded education on bats or any other subject they show interest in.

    I may also choose a topic for them to study and do a four week look at things like the immune system, anatomy, rocks and minerals, weather, stars, mammals, reptiles, nutrition, personal hygiene, teeth, seashore items, waves, and so forth. I look for games related to the subject, draw pictures with them, create lap books, go on field trips related to the subject, and watch videos from the library such as Magic School Bus or DK Eyewitness series.

    These lessons are between 15-30 minutes long. Usually two days a week, I will often alter between science/health and social studies/manners & etiquette/geography. The lessons are kept as light and fun as possible.  Whether we read a few pages of a book, watch a video, make a craft or picture, do an experiment, take a related field trip; my goal is to make God's world large and inviting.  I'm merely wetting their appetite at this stage of their learning. At around age 10-14 the learning will get much more intense answering the how's and whys, but now I want them to enjoy learning as well as, learning where to find information and how to use a library.   

    My favorite science books have been:

        1. The Kids' Nature Almanac by Alison Smith. Every month of the year has studies and activities appropriate for that month. This has greatly helped me to shape my yearly goals with ideas and subjects to study.   

        2. Considering God's Creation by Mortimer and Smith. The material is integrated with Scriptures giving the biblical approach to natural science. The student book has lots of great pictures and activity pages for learning and lap books. There is also the ability to build on this curriculum depending on the level of each of your children. The prep work can be heavy but the rewards are good. I am pleased with this and it will last me quite some time as I integrate these topics along with topics of  interest.   

        3. For Dinosaurs and Creation materials check out http://www.answersingenesis.org. Answers in Genesis is a creation ministry led by Ken Ham with a wealth of resources, many oriented toward chidren, including a couple of curriculum guides such as "It All begins in Genesis".  We have purchased many books and child friendly videos for the biblical support of dinosaurs and creation theology, as well as tapes, books and CDs/videos for teens and adults on the same topics. You can also check out http://www.icr.org for the Institute for Creation Research. Their Jonathan Park audio adventure series is well done and our children love it. It has recently been released on CD.

    We have many, many other science books on our shelves that largely include experiments, and nature studies. I haven't done much with many of these yet!

Note: For Health and Hygiene I have used Rod and Staff curriculum and books from the library.

    Social Studies / Manners / Geography: In 2003, for the most part I majored in manners and social graces. I also picked topics like Presidents, States, Musicians, Artists, Biblical time lines, specifics about geography / topography of US states or sometimes simply the way of life during the passages we are studying in the Bible or for the current book we are reading together.  However, these to are kept very brief on a particular day unless we are reading a story concerning the topic. For example, when reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, we also discussed life on the prairie during the time period, including how people dressed and lived, along with what they ate and so forth.

     I have not used any kind of textbook type approach . I usually keep it broad and very general.  I want to give them that big approach to the world as Charlotte Mason suggests (see Karen Andreola's Charlotte Mason Companion).  When they are older I will require a much more detailed study on historical matters and people. I will probably use Diana Warning's Material, or something similar when I cross that bridge at around ages 12-14. Again, these lessons are kept to about 15-30 min, two days a week. 

    We also may read a section in "Little Bear" Wheeler's, God's Mighty Hand. This is a look at how God's hand has been evident all through history. Each section is about a notable time or a famous person (which are in chronological order) in history and related an account of how God used His mighty hand to shape history for the spread of the gospel.  We enjoy this!    
    
    English/Grammar: I will use a notebook for each language we are studying: three subject notebooks for vocabulary, spelling, and dictation.  For example, I will dictate a sentence to our oldest son, and he will write it out.  If there are any spelling errors those words are added to the spelling list.  We look the word up in the dictionary. He then enters the word in the spelling section and the vocabulary section along with the definition. During the next few days he will copy the word a few times and be required to write three new sentences using the originally mis-spelled word. This may be a source of new words to be added to the list.  Also, if he wants to write a letter and asks for help spelling a word, I will help him and then add that word to the spelling list.

    I have used English for the Thoughtful Child by Mary F. Hyde of Green leaf Press (http://www.greenleafpress.com) and then followed up with Simply Grammar by Karen Andreola. This is the Charlotte Mason approach using narration and a simple writing process so as not to burden a young child. This is wonderfully quick and very painless.  I also use School House Rock songs from time to time and have had great results. Even when our daughter was 4, she would sings, "Interjections are words followed by an explanation point like HEY! or RATS!" All of these lessons are short and are easily squeezed into the day.
 
    I appreciate these grammar books greatly because there are no workbooks, they are short lessons and to the point. I start this when my child is able to read somewhat well. There is flexibility with these books to accommodate children who enjoy workbooks and those who don't. I  tailored it to my son who has nice penmanship but hates to write.   I used to make him write a lot (what a battle) and then I was reminded of the verse about not frustrating my child and realized forcing unnecessary busy work was "frustrating my child" in the biblical context. All I need is for him to learn and relate the correct information. As long as the question is answered in a complete sentence I'm satisfied for now!
    
    Art: I purchased: God and the History of Art by Barry Stebbing. It contains 250 lessons from Egypt to the 20th century - with a Godly focus. This teaches both who did the artwork, with postcards of master painters art, and how to do it yourself! I will use this on the Friday schedule a few times a month or as I determine helpful.             

    Penmanship: I have used Rod and Staff penmanship series for manuscript then I switched to A Reason For Handwriting. I've had great results with both of these with all of the children. I have also used Draw Write Now with my younger two mainly because they love to draw and this also worked well.

    Phonics/ Reading/Spelling: I used Rod and Staff for Colin, my oldest.  This failed with Eric, so I moved on to TATRAS (Teach America To Read And Spell) by Frank Rogers. I've used this now with both of my youngest children and have had good results. I have started both of them on the Rod and Staff readers using the principles from TATRAS.  I like Rod and Staff because of the biblical material for the daily reading assignments. So, instead of: " See Dick run." We read, "Noah built the ark."

    Devotions: There are two books that I feel are well worth mentioning here for family devotions.

    1. Devotions for The Children's Hour by Kenneth Taylor, this book was a great introduction to the basics of Christian doctrine such as, Who is God ?  What is sin? and so forth.
         
    2. Sword Fighting by Karen Henley. This book is wonderful! You work on one verse a week along with the "temptation" that this verse can be used to fight against. Every day there is a Scripture reading to go along with the biblical principle of the verse to be memorized. You can then turn these learned verses into a few games. Briefly, this is one of the games: each child takes a turn challenging one another to a sword fight.  For example, the challenger says, "I challenge you to a sword fight!" When the challenged person  accepts the challenge, he is given the "temptation" and must answer with the correct verse to combat it. Knight A says, "You are tempted to feel sorry for yourself." The challenged young knight might respond, "I will not feel sorry for myself because the Scripture says, 'My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2'" If they answer the challenge correctly they may now challenge someone. This is one of the most practical books I've ever seen concerning the need for and the use of Scripture in everyday life.



AGE 10  This year we have entered into the "Logic Stage" of education for our oldest child. This is the age that I need to shift him into more concentrated study as he is now ready to understand concepts, relationships and abstract ideas. He will learn higher level math, science and language skills while still gaining a broader scope from the other areas of study mentioned above.
      
    As my oldest son as reached the age of 10 this year ('05) I have increased his work load by adding:

    1.Wordly Wise by Educators Publishing Service a vocabulary curriculum and I very pleased with this.  
    2. Understanding Writing by Susan Bradrick. A complete course for writing (grades 1-12). It is not necessary to start this at grade one but it is certainly enough material to finish home education. The reviews for this were very good and so far we like it. This is Christ centered material teaching the importance of Christians having strong writing skills and how to use their writing to glorify God.  
    3. Using the DIK-she-nehr-ee, by Weekly Reader Skills Books. This is a dictionary skills book I picked up somewhere (possibly Rainbow Resource) that uses fun word games requiring the use of a dictionary to get the answers to the games and puzzles. This is to teach the children how to use the dictionary from locating words to, explaining word roots, syllables, and abbreviations.
    4. Critical Thinking (http://www.criticalthinking.com) books like Minute Mysteries, Cranium Crackers and such.
    5. Saxon 65 Math which seems to be extremely simple for him but that's okay because he is still somewhat weak with recalling his math facts quickly. So I'm supplementing this with Math Wrap-ups and Math Path,a computer math program that is like electronic flash cards with a timer built-in. At the end of the "bundle" it gives a print out with the number wrong, along with the missed problems (website is no longer active). Being timed stresses Colin but I feel it's time to stretch him to work his way through this as many required tests in life are timed.
     6. Science: I am giving him more experiments to do and requiring more in-depth, study with the Considering God's Creation science curriculum. It's provides a "Digging Deeper" section for older students.
    7. Journey Through Grammar Land.  I had high hopes when I purchased this but have not been pleased with this at all. The premise was to turn parts of speech into an allegory type story to explain each part of speech. The story is too forced and it doesn't make much sense. I still have Colin read this hoping that he will be able to glean some valuable information but I don't require the work. We find it very confusing and I haven't been able to figure out where the student is supposed to have gained the required information from the text. I need to find a better curriculum for next year.  
    8. Exploring Christian Literature by Christian Liberty Press. These have good short stories with questions after each to teach good story structure. What is the main plot, setting, mood, overall unity and flow, main characters, life application etc. Then they must analyze each story to determine whether the message contained in the reading is consistent with the Scriptures, and that the work properly delivered the Biblical principles to the reader. This will teach the importance of properly conveying their thoughts.  

     **Note: Not all of these subjects are done every day. I rotate these into the schedule and will even let him choose some of his daily work load.

    Weekly Household Chores: Yes, I do consider this part of their schooling!  I came across a speed cleaning book a few years ago and ordered the companion video and many products from The Clean Team! (http://www.thecleanteam.com). It is absolutely wonderful and the people there are always so friendly and helpful.  They use this material to teach their staff of maids how to clean and I use it to teach my children.  On Friday the work is divided up and the house is cleaned and I hope the older they get the cleaner our house will be! They clean the bathrooms, dust, vacuum, clean glass doors and table tops and sweep. I clean the kitchen appliances and cabinets, iron and finish any leftover laundry from the week, and occasionally mop the kitchen floor (this is supposed to be done every week according to the clean team; well maybe some day!) Most of the time, I'm busy training and retraining my little helpers at work in the bathrooms and other rooms that mopping the kitchen floor ends up being bumped from the "to-do" list.

    Cooking:  This is not on my schedule but it is often taught.  A few times a week we will bake bread, cake or cookies. Each one gets a turn to help cook dinner.  Baking is usually done at the end of the school day if they need my help.


Final Notes

    I use this schedule as a guide for my day, not a ball and chain. Before I start each day I ask the Lord to give me the wisdom to know what He would have me teach and accomplish in my home that day.

    We begin the morning schedule with Bible reading, devotion and prayer (Each one of us will pray for at least one other person or prayer request). Then each day takes on its design. The Fall, Winter and Spring schedules are usually held most strictly, Summer has more flexibility with added field trips, recreation park visits, or visits with friends on occasion. I try my best to be consistent with lessons and projects keeping things running as smooth as possible, but sometimes life situations call us to a different and immediate action.
  
    Some days we leave out something on the schedule for baking, for a needed visit to the neighbor, sickness, weeding, for working on a subject that needed more time,  Mom's just at the end of her rope, etc., but, these are exceptions. If I can, I'll wait until the school day is over to do these things.

    Sometimes the time slots change around a bit. For instance, now often Wrap-Ups, copywork and/or penmanship requirements are usually done along with free reading time.

    Free reading and rest time is strictly observed. For an hour and a half every day we all go to different rooms. The children will read, do math wrap-ups, penmanship, or puzzles. It must be absolutely quite and they must be separate for this time. I will read or rest as well.        

    The hardest and most important part to my schedule is the selfless life required. I have found that it is best to somewhat isolate (protect) myself from outside influences as much as possible during the 12 weeks of scheduled schooling. If I don't, I am even more stressed by trying to solve other peoples problems I have not been called to solve, get caught up in visits or distractions, and then everything follows in a downward spiral.

    I don't answer the phone while we are doing school.  I let the answering machine do its job, and I'll check it when I get a break in the work. Most of my friends (all 2 or 3 of them) and my mom and sister know to call me after 3pm.

     I keep pretty close to the schedule during the 12 week session. I do 3 months of scheduled schooling and 1 month off throughout the year.

     Dying to self is the hardest thing to do, but I've come to realize it's probably the most important thing I must do on a daily basis.  I'm constantly asking my children, "Who is on the throne of your heart right now?"  I used to have it follow it up with something like: "Have you bumped Jesus off the throne so that you can sit there?" "You must get off the throne and ask Jesus to sit there!"  And, to my surprise and horror, the Holy Spirit has been asking me that question a great deal this past year. The world is constantly soothing many wounds with "it's all about you....self, self, and more self help." I have a friend who is always asking me, "What are you doing for yourself to make you feel special ?"  "When do you get time for yourself?"

    I need to be careful here because I do think it is vitally important that we do have time by ourselves, not for our "self-indulgences", but rather, for time alone for Scripture, prayer, time to reflect on the job at hand and time to regain focus and vision for our families and our homeschool. Most importantly, just time alone with our Father in Heaven, to reflect, rejoice, and recover in peace. It is this time that I struggle to have but need soooo much more than say, a massage at a spa!

    Jesus tells me, "I must become less and less so that He can fill me more and more."  I often remind myself of the verse, "He who finds his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake with find it."  If I can stay the course, the prize will be more then I could ever hope for. It will be a close relationship with Christ my Lord!



END OF THE YEAR EVALUATION:


     At the end of the year I'll prayerfully write out a paper with the following type of information: 

How did I do with the schedule?
What worked and what didn't?
Did each of my children reach the personal goals I had for them?
What are some of the highlights and low points?
What are we lacking in skills, knowledge and character training? 
What do I want accomplish next year for each child?
            
    I usually write about a paragraph for each child addressing these questions and one overall look for the general efforts of the school year. This evaluation is a launching point for my start up Goals and Evaluation to begin the next year. [Return to top and begin again!]


Schedule:

In case you are completely overwhelmed after reading all this, please see the following schedule which will hopefully ease your mind. This is our planned schedule for 2005, with Colin at age 10 and two others below this level.

Workdesk Click on the Workdesk to see the schedule



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