What am I going to neglect and what am I going to pursue?
My last article left us with this probing question as we pondered Leigh Bortins’s words…
…And I see frustrated parents who have over-estimated their high school child’s elementary education, realize they have not prepared their child adequately at the grammar stage, and so lower their standards for their older child’s education just at the time the student is really ready to become a mature learner (Echo in Celebration, page 56).
So… how do I adequately prepare my children while they are in the grammar stage? What are the core skills to be established in elementary-aged children? And as we work towards establishing these skills, how do we inspire our children with a love of learning? For several years I have asked myself these questions as we have waded through the plethora of curriculum available, searching for that magic formula that will instill a love of learning in our children.
Simply stated, the core skills required for higher order learning include reading, writing, mathematics, and memory work. An important discovery I have made, however, is that each of these skills can be pursued in a way that inspires children to enjoy learning. In fact, my attitude about a subject has much more to do with inspiring my children than which curriculum we are using. The more appropriate question for me is how am I modeling a love of learning in my home? That question is much more convicting.
The content of my next few articles will explore each of these core skills to note what they entail and how they might inspire our children in and of themselves.
Reading is the foundational skill that opens up all other doors of knowledge. If we hope to inspire our children to love learning, we need to establish reading as a core part of our home. Sharing good books (including Scripture) with our children is one of the most inspirational things we can ever do in teaching our children to read. Reading aloud to our children not only develops vocabulary and attention span, it also establishes a love of books as we enjoy adventures together as a family. As our toddlers have grown into a family culture of reading (while they are playing in the floor with Legos and Hot Wheels), they have naturally (eventually, not immediately) developed an interest in wanting to read themselves. Many of our favorite family memories are wrapped up in the stories we have shared together.
After teaching phonics instruction in our home, there are three categories of reading in which our children engage: 1) being read to from books above their reading level to increase vocabulary; 2) reading easy books independently below reading level to improve reading speed, comprehension, and fluency; and 3) reading books out loud at a comfortable level to increase a child’s overall reading skills. With a parent’s help, children can select books on topics that interest them, resulting in an inspiring, interest-led approach to improving this skill which is essential to further study in any area.
Although writing encompasses skills such as handwriting, spelling, English grammar, and copywork, the one element of writing I personally struggled with most was copywork. While I could justify English grammar and spelling, I wrestled with seeing the benefits of the seemingly futile and mundane practice of copywork. Now that we are further along in our journey, I have witnessed the beauty, simplicity, and necessity of providing quality content for my children to copy.
Ultimately, we aim to equip our children to ponder difficult ideas and communicate those ideas persuasively, clearly, and eloquently in speech and writing, but we cannot expect students to express themselves well before providing them the tools to do so. In the same way that babies learn how to communicate by imitating their parents, young students first learn how to write well by imitating other writers. Copywork not only develops patience and diligence while teaching sentence structure, punctuation, and capitalization, but it also establishes a standard for quality writing as students mimic those who have mastered the art of writing well. As our children progress through the elementary years, they graduate from simply copying material to outlining and writing their own version of the same material. Over time, they are exposed to various literary structures and techniques which become a part of their writing as they mature.
Very young children develop fine motor skills and establish good habits (such as proper posture) just by coloring. After learning the proper formation of lowercase and uppercase letters, students can practice copywork with any source material. Although I thought it tedious and boring, my own children’s enthusiasm skyrocketed as they were given the opportunity to imitate the books and poems they most loved. Here again, I found that my own attitude towards a subject prevented inspiration in our homeschool. Although copywork may seem “tedious and boring” to a parent, it is a critical skill for writing clearly and eloquently later when students begin to explore creative writing and self-expression.
These are two of the most essential skills to develop at the elementary age level. If I neglect these skills to pursue other activities, I am likely jeopardizing the quality of my child’s elementary education. However, what if these are established in our homeschool? What else can I do to inspire and encourage a quality classical education in my home? How can I explore interest-led learning and a spirit of discovery in my home?
To be continued…