Posted in Uncategorized

Why Classical Education? (redux)

One of the most common questions I get from parents thinking about classical home education is

“Why this? Why classical education versus what my children are already doing? How can you possibly do it, when you haven’t done it yourself?”

Last part first.

I read books.  No, seriously, I read widely and deeply. For example, when I assigned my eldest child The Odyssey, I read Wilson’s translation. I also read about education and classical education. Finally ready for a deeper dive, I read Norms & Nobility last winter.


  1. Reading comprehension is essentially a background knowledge test
    1. Classical education (AKA, a knowledge-rich curriculum) offers the most background knowledge. It’s the reason why studies show that the only curriculum shown to make a difference in test scores, all other variables held constant, is that at private order religious schools (not Catholic parish schools).
    2. Religious order schools offer a classical education, right down to classics departments that teach Latin and Greek.
  2. Classical education helps give students the ability to reason well and problem solve.
    1. Background knowledge helps increase problem solving skills.
    2. Your children will also build analytical skills:
      1. grammar (language analysis)
      2. math (proofs)
      3. composition (argumentative essays)
      4. science (scientific method)
      5. history (historical analysis)
  3. Being drawn into fake news like tree octopuses and terrible situations like cults is less likely because they’ll know about what’s real—AKA have a handle on truth.


This is the second good reason to practice classical education: your children will learn about truths and Truth.

What do religions believe?
How does that impact culture?
What are the underlying philosophical issues impacting our world today?

When you start at the beginning and blend in religious studies and philosophy, you begin to see patterns in how those arguments play out over time, and you can spy when threadbare, defeated arguments pop up again in pretty new guises. All that is old is new again. 


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so, therefore is curriculum. However, I don’t see anyone suggesting we should throw out the decimal system merely because it’s old! Likewise, I suggest that the idea of the seven liberal arts, the knowledge, skills, and abilities understood to free your mind, should also be given respect and their beauty honored. The details may vary in the implementation, but the underlying ideas remain.

“What we call civilization – the accumulation of knowledge which has come to us from our forefathers – is the fruit of thousands of years of human thought and toil … it is by right the common heritage of all.” —Robert Tressell via Ben Newmark

Posted in Uncategorized

A utilitarian view of classical education

Classical education is distinctive in part because it has a prescribed path of study. Different classical educators have different paths, but I plan our program of instruction using the scope and sequence of the curricula mapped in the  Well-Trained Mind. 

This systematic approach is anathema to many public schoolers using weak standards, eclectic homeschoolers who just study whatever the parent deems important, and unschooling types who feel that dictating an area of study is doing violence upon their child, but I disagree for several reasons.

Unknown Unknowns

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. — Donald Rumsfeld

I believe that there are “unknown unknowns,” and that children, with their limited experience in the world naturally have a significantly higher number of unknown unknowns.

For example, I grew up in a house without regular electricity, and my mother always cleaned the antique stove with harsh chemicals when my sibling and I were out of the house. Therefore, as an adult I didn’t know that modern ovens had a cleaning setting until my husband and I bought a new stove. 

Prior Background Knowledge

I didn’t know what I didn’t know. This calls the idea of having prior background knowledge into sharp relief. I couldn’t Google something I didn’t know existed. In fact, in 1988, two researchers from Marquette University completed a study, since thoroughly verified and replicated, that shows just how important background knowledge is for reading comprehension. Here’s a 3 minute, 50 second summary video. Go ahead, I’ll wait. 

Knowledge has a much bigger impact on reading comprehension than ability. — Schwartz

As per Aaron Tippin, “you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” In a study at the University of Connecticut, the vast majority of students fell for a hoax website about tree octopuses. Researchers blamed the lack of generic reading skills, but as per the baseball study we know that in fact, students didn’t have the prior background knowledge about the natural world to understand that octopuses can’t live in trees. They couldn’t push back against false information without reliable background knowledge. 

Since time is limited, what knowledge is most important?

Key Domains of Education

Modern educators recognize seven distinct core subject areas:

Classical educators tend to use the seven liberal arts (so-called because they liberate your mind.) According to Sister Miriam Joseph, they break down into science (knowledge) and art (action) that tend to correspond pretty well to modern subject areas:

Trivium: reading, writing, speaking, listening in English, Latin, and other languages about literature, history, and philosophy (natural, moral, and metaphysical)

    • logic — directive thinking
    • grammar — expressing thought
      • phonetics, spelling, sentence composition, paragraph and longer compositions, reasoning
    • rhetoric — correct, effective, truthful communication

Quadrivium: math and its applications

    • mathematics — number (arithmetic, calculus, etc)
    • music — application of arithmetic (discrete mathematics: harmonics, physics, chemistry, etc)
    • geometry — space (continuous mathematics: analytic geometry,  trigonometry, etc)
    • astronomy — application of geometry (architecture, geography, surveying, engineering)

The content areas I choose to cover in my homeschool tend to include, though are not limited to, the modern core subject areas, but I cover them in a classical, systematic way. For example, next school year my daughter is studying logic, math, science, history, geography, spelling, grammar, composition, Latin, Spanish, visual and music arts appreciation, and literature. 

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

While I think joining the “Great Conversation” is a good thing, I also believe that Lord Morley’s aphorism about truth is another excellent goal of education. 

An educated man is one who knows when a thing is proved and when it is not. An uneducated man does not know. — quoted in A Defence of Classical Education

If, in the end, my daughters end up with a honed ability to determine truth, beauty, and goodness, my homeschool efforts will have not been in vain.

Posted in Uncategorized

Yes, we use the Well-Trained Mind, but …

People tend to forget that it’s a plan, not a prison. Yes, I peruse it every spring, but my children are not theoretical constructs. I customize it.

For example, next year will be the 6th grade for my eldest child. So, I flipped open my Kindle copy of the most recent edition, clicked on Part II. The Logic Stage: Fifth Grade through Eighth Grade, skipped the introduction (I’ve already been convinced!), and re-read the How to Teach.

I noted the “if she can support her points with the facts” and reminded myself that I’d like to use the exercises from The Writing Revolution with Gwen next year.

“Language, mathematics, logic, history, and science are staples of the logic stage; art and music should be pursued if possible.”

(Location 5986 in The Well-Trained Mind)

Step 1: Logic.

Last year, my eldest child attempted The Art of Argument, but I didn’t have time to devote to going through it with her, and she didn’t get much out of the DVDs. She’d already done Bonnie Risby’s Blast Off With Logic Series the year before. Swamped at the beginning of the school year, I had her work through Unlocking Analogies instead, and then when she finished it, switched over to Building Critical Thinking Skills. She also participated in a local NCFCA club last school year.

This year, I want to do better for her. Since little sister is going to demand more of my time as a kindergarten student, I signed big sister up for CLRC’s Beginning Logic course that uses Art of Argument and Discovery of Deduction.

Step 2: Math.

This is a difficult subject for my eldest child. I’ve tried Singapore Math, RightStart Math, Math Mammoth, Beast Academy, and Saxon Math, and the program that she’s made the most progress with has been Saxon Math. Last year she successfully completed Saxon 6/5. I reviewed the scope and sequence for Saxon 5/4, 6/5, 7/6, and 8/7, and decided that since there were only three new concepts introduced in Saxon 7/6, she could attempt Saxon 8/7 next year.

Step 3: Science.

Sixth grade in the Well-Trained Mind method is earth science and astronomy. Science is one of my daughter’s favorite subjects, and I splurge a little in both time and money.

For earth science, I’ve decided to use CPO Earth Science as a spine, and downloaded all the supplemental worksheets and labs from their website. I still need to sort and plan exactly what we’ll cover and when. I also purchased TOPS 23 Rocks and Minerals.

For astronomy, I happen to have access to a 17-week course that uses Elemental Science‘s Astronomy for the Logic Stage.

Step 4. History and Geography.

This year is the Middle Ages for my daughter (AD 400 to AD 1600). Like science, this is one of her favorite subjects. I’m signing her up for the WTMA course, which will have outlining, summarization, and primary sources, using Story of the World and the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia.

She does keep a timeline. I purchased the Pandia Press timeline series, and the current year’s timeline hangs in the dining room.

For geography, while she’ll do the map work assigned in class, I’m adding in Evan-Moor’s Daily Geography.

Since she loves history so much, over the summer I’m also creating a supplemental curriculum to extend and deepen her knowledge as they go. I took the significant people list in the Well-Trained Mind for history and literature, added in the suggested primary sources, and mixed in a couple of the supplementary resources, like MP’s Famous Men of the Middle Ages. Then I spent a great deal of time finding locating them in OUP’s Human Odyssey, as well as high quality Internet resources. I like to add in videos and other illustrations. Jim Weiss is always a favorite!

Step 5. Spelling, Grammar, Reading, and Writing.

My daughter is precocious in her language arts skills, so her items for next year are not quite where the Well-Trained Mind recommends.

In terms of literature, the Well-Trained Mind recommends essentially what Memoria Press uses for 9th grade. Since my daughter is a precocious reader, I think I’m just going to purchase MP Poetry, Prose, & Drama Book One and MP’s Ninth Grade Literature Guide Set with Novels. I’ll probably use some of the poetry as this year’s memory work.

For writing, I’ll sign her up for WTMA’s Expository Writing 2, but I think I’m going to add in some exercises from The Writing Revolution and extend the exercises from Writing With Skill 2.

For spelling, she’ll continue the Vocabulary from Classical Roots.

For grammar, she’ll continue Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind, half-speed.

I also compiled a tentative list of novels and collections that I’ll keep in mind for “extra” reading. The MP set won’t keep her busy all year, and I like to offer her choice as much as possible. Because most of these are set in Europe, I’m always looking for non-European settings, authors, and characterss.

Step 6. Latin and Languages.

My eldest child has been studying Latin for a while, most recently using Ecce Romani in an Outschool class and First Form Latin at home. I’m looking forward to outsourcing it entirely to CLRC’s Intermediate Latin I, which is using chapters 1-8 of the Oxford Latin Course Part 1.

Spanish using Getting Started With Spanish this year didn’t go well, mainly because I failed to follow through. So, based on good recommendations from other homeschooling parents, I’m tentatively planning to sign both girls up with Homeschool Spanish Academy.

Step 7. Art and Music.

My eldest daughter spends hours every day doing art, so that’s not really a worry for me. I want to emphasize art appreciation with history, and add in some music appreciation other than her love for EDM and pop music. To that end, I’m using Harmony Fine Art’s Grade 6: Medieval and Renaissance Art and Music

All done!

This will be my eldest daughter’s seventh year of homeschooling, and by this time, I’ve got a good handle on what works for her, and what doesn’t. I also know what I can do, and what I can’t do (or am not interested in doing.) I outsource wherever I think it’s useful, use quality pre-built curricula whenever I can, and generally customize for a perfect fit.

Posted in homeschool, literacy

Teaching Your Child to Read

Simple View of Reading

Teaching your child to read is perhaps the most difficult and most important job you will ever have as a homeschooling parent. Reading is a complex, multi-part task that requires seven strands of education for children to become fluent readers. Addressing each strand is necessary, but insufficient on its own. Classical education addresses all of them, often with specific curricula.



Posted in curriculum choice, math, Saxon

The Joy of Saxon Math

Homeschoolers as a group do better than public school students do, but when adjusted for socio-economic status, do less well in math than expected. Direct Instruction works for increasing math success. Saxon math is a Direct Instruction program. Because of its scripted nature, Saxon math is easier to implement in the homeschool than some other, popular programs, especially when many homeschooling mothers are not confident about their own math skills.

saxonkSaxon math is a complete K-12 program. Grades K – 3 are written very differently from the rest of the program. They’re teacher intensive, highly scripted, and incorporate lots of manipulatives–hallmarks of high-quality direct instruction math programs. Saxon 5/4 through Calculus (3rd edition) is written to the student, allowing students with good verbal skills (like most homeschoolers) to work independently.

Saxon math works. It’s been around in the homeschool community for many years, and has been the subject of efficacy research since 2005, including a randomized, controlled trial. Saxon has its critics, and they are fierce.

One of the main critiques of Saxon math is that outside of the K-3 program, there is no instructor edition. Instead, there is a student text, solutions manual, and a test and worksheet set. With less instructor support, parents who are less confident in math might not be able to help their student if they don’t understand the instructions in the textbook.

saxonA frequent complaint is that there are less challenging word problems in Saxon math. Part of that is the nature of direct instruction: “the optimal success rate for fostering student achievement appears to be about 80 percent.” (Rosenshine, 2012) So yes, the word problems will seem easier.

This is in stark contrast to something like Art of Problem Solving, whose entire raison d’être is to have students grapple with perhaps 10 difficult problems per week. Many parents ameliorate this issue with Saxon math by adding in something like Singapore Math Challenging Word Problems.

However, given that Saxon math has ~40 practice problems and ~50-100 drill problems daily, students quickly run out of time to add in more math. Many parents find their students working slowly because they haven’t mastered the material to automaticity, and so they let their students skip problems, but that runs counter to the delicately scaffolded program in Saxon math.

However, perhaps the main reason that conventionally trained math teachers typically dislike Saxon math is that “only about ten percent of each lesson is new material.” (Englemann, 2007) This means that 90% of the lesson is review from prior lessons. The interleaved, interval-spaced review means students solve problems without explicit conceptual organization. While this is fantastic for making it stick (Taylor and Rohrer, 2010), it feels more difficult. A skilled teacher can assist with knowledge organizers, but without an instructor’s edition, parents might not be able to help students “sort” the concepts mentally.

Given all these critiques, I am still a fan of Saxon math. While I appreciate concept mapping as much as the next person, what I’m most concerned with is, “Can my daughter do math, efficiently and on grade level?” Saxon ensures that her math gets done right.

It’s not easy to transition from a math exposure curriculum, where you study a concept annually and then have brief end-of-chapter reviews. The first day of Saxon math, my daughter spent 45 minutes doing 100 single-digit addition problems because she hadn’t learned them to automaticity. That was in addition to the actual lesson set, which took another 45 minutes. It took her 9 months to master the daily drills enough to get them done in 10 minutes. But she made a year’s worth of progress in the first 5 months.

Enabling all children to be on grade level, to be proficient, is what Direct Instruction curricula do best, and why I highly recommend Saxon math to the vast majority of homeschooling parents.

Posted in general, homeschool

10 Reasons to Homeschool

  1. Child Health. This is perhaps the most common reason I see parents begin to homeschool. An inability to meet special needs (ADHD, dyslexia, autism, anxiety, depression, giftedness, etc.), immune system issues, and many others all compel parents to homeschool their children.
  2. Superior Curriculum. When schools don’t test subject areas, they are often not taught. The vast majority of US elementary students receive no science education, and distressingly little social studies education. In contrast, homeschoolers often center their curriculum on history and science.
  3. Flexible Schedule. When your child has a major illness, or is a working professional, or even because your family moves a lot, homeschooling can be a great help. This is also true if you find yourself squeezed getting homework done between the after school meltdown and bedtime.
  4. More Extracurricular Activities. For those people still stuck on the unsocialized homeschoolers narrative, this may seem counter-intuitive. However, the truth is that homeschooled children tend to participate in more extracurricular activities. They have more time, spending about 23 hours per week on academics vs. the 33 hours a public school student spends in school.
  5. Less Test Prep. Less than half of US states require homeschool parents to assess their children annually, and of the ones that do, a portfolio review is often an acceptable alternative. Therefore, homeschooled children don’t have to spend vast quantities of the school year on test prepIMG_2206
  6. No Active Shooter Drills. This may seem a minor thing, but our children’s mental health is not good, and it’s getting worse. Scarring them with active shooter drills doesn’t help. Most homeschool parents aren’t going to run active shooter drills in their home.
  7. No Busywork. Perhaps this is my pet peeve, but a high percentage of student work is not on grade level, is merely time-consuming, and the assignment quality is poor. I don’t have to assign this at home.
  8. No Abuse by Teachers and Students. About 1 in 10 students will suffer sexual abuse at school. Yes, it happens, and no, it’s not just teachers. In sole control of a large group of unruly students, not all teachers can maintain their cool. Bullying (by teachers and by students) occurs. Homeschoolers are not immune, but homeschool parents can avoid school-based abuse.
  9. No School-based Racism and Sexism. Even the best schools can have racism, whether blatant or more subtle. Sexism is an entrenched issue in public schools. Some parents who are black, indigenous, and/or of color choose to homeschool as a result. Homeschool parents do not systematically discriminate against their daughters.
  10. Poor Teacher Preparation. Poor teacher training is the major issue behind the achievement gap in math and reading. In fact, less than half of aspiring elementary school teachers manage to pass their licensing exam, and so people want to lower standards instead of paying teachers more to attract better teachers. Teachers are told to work towards empty “skills” instead of knowledge. In contrast, homeschoolers often outsource classes, use co-ops, homeschool huddles, and hire small-group tutors with specific goals in mind, and their test results show it.

Bonus: Homeschooling is a highly effective method of education.  check


“One-on-one and one-on-small group tutoring had the largest impacts (effect sizes of about +0.32).  Robert Slavin