Education is like food, in some respects. It is necessary for human flourishing, there are universal principles governing its preparation and development, but at the end of the day, it can be provided in a number of different ways, adapted to the needs and tastes of those who consume it. Our present approach to home education is very similar to our diet: eclectic, cyclical, and unhurried.
We have found that no single curriculum publisher fully meets our needs, and so we experiment and find what seems to be the most effective thing to do in a particular area of study for a particular child. Our ten-year-old dyslexic boy genius, for example, did not do well with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and so half-way through, we moved to Ordinary Parents Guide to Reading, along with memory work with sight words. Whereas once he was behind grade level in reading, he is now reading at a middle school level. Our seven-year-old dyslexic left-handed, march-to-the-beat-of-her-own-drum, pony-princess-unicorn daughter seems to be doing well with the 100 Easy Lessons book, and so for now we are continuing with that for her.
We used to be entirely against textbooks, based upon the theory that these were lifeless and would become tedious and boring to our students. While some textbooks are undoubtedly like that, we have also found ones such as The Riot and the Dance, written by a gifted scientist and a biblical creationist, to be a real treasure for our son’s science curriculum. We used to believe that one ought to strictly adhere to “history cycles” and present the Ancient World, followed by the Medieval to Early Renaissance Period, followed by the Late Renaissance to the Early Modern period, to the Modern period. We now see that it needn’t be so regimented and hierarchical as all that. History isn’t simply about the past– it’s the past as it interacts with and impacts and interests the present and future. Our son we have started this year in the ancient world (yet again) but after Assyria and Rome, we plan to base his history on the histories of Rome-Byzantium and Russia. Our daughter, we have simply decided to read her the 50 famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin as a way to build within her the notion of history itself as collective, shared memories of great people and their deeds within the past.
For math, overwhelmingly, we have resorted to Khan Academy for both of our active students. While we have workbooks here and there, they do a minimum of an hour online for Khan Academy per day. It tracks their progress, builds mastery, and is largely self-directed. Boy genius is doing Pre-Algebra and Geometry now.
Cycles within cycles. Repetition is the mother of learning, as the ancient saying goes. For us, what seems to work is introduction of new materials on Monday and Tuesday, review with flashcards and spelling/writing practice on those materials Wednesday through Friday, and a test on the materials on Saturday. We are trying to work in a flashcard review of previous week materials two times a week as well. Then, near the end of a term, a test on all the materials learned after a week’s review of everything. This seems to work, and produces artifacts of learning: flashcards, notes, weekly tests, terms tests, etc.
Another ancient saying: multum, non multa. “Much, not many.” The professor Andrew Campbell of Memoria Press has done a great job of explaining to his contemporaries the meaning of this approach to education, which emphasizes depth, not instead of breadth, but as a way to ultimately get breadth, as well. As a practice, we strive to stick with a given subject or unit of study until our student approaches mastery. Great things, we have found, can be digested by little people, provided that the bites are small. To this end, we read a page of science, memorize and master key terms and concepts, and only then do we move on. It’s the same with history and Latin.
At the end of the day, the home educating parents has to leave the ideal spheres of theory and deal with the reality on the ground. If a method or theory about how your children are supposed to be learning does not seem to be working for your family, I strongly urge you to experiment and deeply reflect in order to discover, with God’s help, the methods and theories that do.