Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Weeping in my Pajamas: How To Teach Your Kids

This is for you who want to be convinced to keep homeschooling your children.

This morning, not unusually, I spent two hours in front of the computer. But this was different. I rose earlier to accommodate a time difference, and my children had been prepped with warnings to head directly to the buffet of supplies set out for them. Cereal, milk, Playdough and elaborate Playdough accessories. Our curriculum comes from a school in Ojai, California and was founded by Laura Berquist. Mrs. Berquist regularly offers these virtual training sessions, this series being specific to the stages of formation. Today she spoke about the Grammatical stage, roughly grades 3-5. 

We are a Classical school, meaning that we educate with the following principle aims:

The Habits of Mind:
-- Knowing how to think
-- Knowing how to approach a subject
-- Preparing us for Heaven
-- Leading us to the highest object of truth: God.

And we do so according to a specific structure, namely the seven liberal arts, divided into the trivium and the quadrivium. The Trivuum includes the Grammatical, Rhetorical and Logical stages of formation. The key is to capture the natural talents, interests and abilities of each stage in a child's development. Mine are little, meaning they practically exist to memorize. Observing, sequencing, and recalling are gently emphasized with every subject during the Grammatical stage. We formally enter this stage next year with our seven-year old, since the Primary stage has been our focus this year.

The Quadrivium is comprised of the four higher divisions --- Arithmetic, Music, Geometry and Astronomy.

Another testament to the beauty of classical education is the natural attraction of the child to each stage. What do teenagers love to do? Argue. Mother of Divine Grace's curriculum trains students to use rhetoric in the service of the truly noble. When asked if I'll homeschool our children "all the way through", it's with bemusement that I say, "I have no idea." But far from being overwhelming or tiring, thoughts of the high school curriculum come with a sense of payoff, the coalescing of so many lively conversations constructed around the good, the true and the beautiful. It's my hope that the privilege will still be mine, when we have high school students, to be their tutor.

The value of this conversational aspect is not to be discounted, as our foundress emphasized today. In the Primary stage, this is accomplished by asking our kids the Who, What, Where, When and Why of their reading adventures. In the later years, this becomes complex and is the basis for their ability to write cohesively. They build their vocabulary by making arguments political, forensic and ceremonial. Anyone who took a class from Les Snyder or Carrie Enge at Petersburg High School will recall why they were so beloved ~ they talked to us about life. I relished the days no instruments were assembled during Band, or textbooks cracked during English. It wasn't a dismissal of learning, but pieces of their hearts freely offered to their students in the form of imparting stories and personal philosophy.

I regularly need a kick in the pants and a reminder of the macro view, if you will. The family training sessions, while useful with specific challenges and addressing each text with some detail, fulfill this more general need simultaneously. Again, Laura Berquist's candor was gripping and inspring. Two well-focused hours, with talk of math facts, Aristotle, Plato and original justice --- ending with another specific truth.

"At the end --- God is going to say to me," Laura offered, "How did you do, with your primary vocation, with the children I gave you? (she then names each of her six children). We want to answer that we did our best." She broke up a bit tearfully when speaking of this today, and if we measure according to the response of the two dozen women in attendance, it resonated quite poignantly with many.


  1. Followed you here from a comment on Orwell's Picnic. Thank you for this post! I, too, need a good kick in the pants every so often. :o) Isn't Mrs. Berquist great? I've been lucky enough to see her in person a few times. She's so smart, yet humble and very good at making you feel like you *can* do this.

    1. Hi Wendy! I agree, her approach to things is somehow quite heady, but still accessible. What a gift.