I must make several comments before proceeding on with this article. First of all, I am not going to address developing your own curriculum. That is beyond the scope of this article. In the past, I have created my own lessons plans, but as my family continued to grow and my time and resources became stretched, I choose to find a curriculum provider that best fit my family and to make the modifications necessary to work for us – and – I choose to stay with it.
In addition to not addressing how to develop your own course of study, I will not discuss “unschooling” or “child led learning” in the many different flavors and descriptions and beauty that are available. I say this not as a condemnation of the approach, but simply from the point of view that I do not believe it is the course that God has planned for us. The philosophy does not mesh what I believe to be the nature of my children and the path of learning that we are called to follow.
If you are new to homeschooling or are simply considering homeschooling, you may believe that it is a fairly simple matter to pick a curriculum and you many not even know there are other approaches. Most of us attended public school, a smaller group of us attended parochial schools. In general, we had a separate book and class for each subject. We studied grammar using a grammar book, then we studied literature sometimes using an anthology or actual books. We studied history using the history textbook and so on. Each subject stands on its own and if a certain text does not work, it is easy enough to switch it out. I have classified such an approach to schooling as a scholastic approach – I honestly do not know if there is a more appropriate word.
In the secular and protestant world of homeschooling, you can find a number of providers that use this approach, Abeka, Bob Jones University, Calvert among others. When you look at Catholic curriculum providers, Seton is the most easily recognized “brand” of the scholastic approach. This company is the mainstay of many homeschoolers. They offer a tried and true program that is respected and accredited. In addition, they have years of experience in working with Catholic homeschoolers- they are pioneers of Catholic homeschooling and I am grateful for the work they have taken on and the paving of the way for all of us that follow. The program is rigorous from the beginning, but parents are encouraged to tailor the program to their individual children. Several yahoo email lists exist for ongoing support for Seton users including Heart of Seton, a very high volume list. Seton offers online classes and lesson plans, an experienced staff able to answer your calls and emails and an extensive line of homeschool books that they have self-published. What you will find are textbooks and workbooks for each subject.
Another approach to education is called “classical”. I do not intend on presenting a detailed description because there are many sites devoted to classical homeschooling but I will offer several links that give a brief overview:
- Interview with Laura Berquist author of “Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum”
- “The Lost Tools of Learning” by Dorthy Sayer
- “Introduction to Classical Education” article
Please note that for many homeschoolers, their first brush with a “classical” approach may be Susan Bauer’s, “Well Trained Mind”. Personally for me, this book did not mesh with what I understood a classical education to encompass, and more importantly, as my family grew, the outline and suggested course of study became totally unmanageable not to mention that I had to add all the Catholic resources. An alternative book that I highly recommend is:
What you will find in a classical education is an emphasis on memory work in the early years of school. Memorizing is not simply for the sake of memorizing but is to train the mind and to build a set of knowledge to draw upon in later years. Beginning in late elementary and completing in middle school is the stage where students because to analyze materials using the knowledge they memorized in the earlier years. Finally, students refine their analytical and rhetorical skills bringing many pieces together and working on presentation. The stages are designed to respect the stage of learning a child is in so you will not find book reports or grammar studies being done in the early elementary years. But, you will find structured phonetics, math facts and memorization of history dates and events to pepper these early years.
One of the most familiar Catholic classical curriculum providers is Mother of Divine Grace. I personally use MODG because the resources and pace fit my family. I love the literature that is used to teach history. History textbooks are used beginning in third grade, but only to provide a framework. History is fleshed out by reading wonderful books about the time periods the students are studying. My oldest are in the dialectic stage and I am having a terrific time discussing the growth of Chrisianity using the text, “The Story of the Church” beginning in the middle of seventh grade. The plans encourage parents to discuss certain subjects with students and religion definitely lends itself to great discussions and apologetics.
Kolbe is also considered a classical education provider but uses Ignatius methods and is also well respected especially because the program is easily tailored to the needs of your family and provides enrollment and accreditation as does MODG. Finally, Angelicum Academy also provides a classical education, but in my years online, I have not heard a great number of positive reviews but have heard more negative comments.
I have to mention that there is a fairly extensive Montessori movement in Catholic homeschooling. There are no curriculum providers for this approach but there some wonderful online resources devoted to making the materials used in Montessori, and discussing how to implement this in a home and albums. One of the major problems for being able to provide a complete Montessori education is that the materials can be prohibitively expensive to purchase or very time consuming to make. Another stumbling block is that for many homeschoolers, space is lacking and it may become difficult to find a way to store all the materials and to have them also accessible to students but at the same time, not accessible to all the little ones. Personally, I have used many of the ideas of Montessori in the schooling of my youngest students including practical life activities and pouring and scooping or rice and water. I would like to follow the approach and teach cursive in the first grade but have not gathered the materials together. From Our Father’s House, I have purchased a mass kit and lesson plans for introducing the vessels and linens used during mass. And, if a program is available in your area, I would recommend Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for religious instructions. Some other sites to visit include:
- Montessori – description and links
- Montessori Materials
- Overview of Montessori
- Playschool -a very active, Catholic yahoo email list with an extensive set of links
Another curriculum approach that is often discussed and used among homeschoolers is a Charlotte Mason approach. The motto of CM is “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life”. What you will find in the early years of CM are short lessons, the development of good habits, narration and dictation and exposure to and a developing of an appreciation of nature – the nature that God has created for us to enjoy and learn from. A respect for the nature of the child is inherent in the approach. Personally, I have found that CM blends wonderfully with the classical education approach I use with my family. You may encounter a few critics who believe that because Charlotte Mason was protestant, that it is incompatible with a true Catholic education – these same people will also say that Maria Montessori, while Catholic, was heavily influenced by secular humanists and thus that method is not “true” Catholic homeschooling. But, in my experience, the Catholic church believes that “truth” exists in many areas and has “Catholicized” many pagan customs – so, it is not a stretch for me to see that there is “truth” in CM and that it is not counter to my Catholic beliefs. We are even blessed to have a FREE Catholic CM curriculum available at Mater Amabilis. Two Catholic homeschool mothers, one in England and one in the United States, came together to create a Catholic version of a Charlotte Mason education. Some other links of interest include:
- Charlotte Mason series - online
- The 20 Principles of a CM education
- The Charlotte Mason Method (overview)
Other points that you will hear when reading or discussing CM is the idea of “living books” – rather than depending on textbooks to impart knowledge, Miss Mason believed that real books, books that stand the test of time are better able to provide knowledge. I read a long time ago how textbooks are simply a gathering of facts, often compiled by a number of different people. Students are not inspired with the knowledge. But, when a child reads a good piece of literature, the author has poured himself into the work and the child encounters it and is affected by it, sometimes profoundly. That is why as parents, we must take care with the books we allow our children to read. I have learned more history in reading the historical fiction books assigned to my children like “Amos Fortune Freeman” and “The Matchlock Gun” and “The Silver Branch” than I ever retained in the textbooks I had in school. I love history now and my children enjoy it too – rather than seeing history as an exercise in memorizing dates and battles.
Finally, the last approach I will discuss is unit studies. Unfortunately, there is no Catholic curriculum providers that has developed an entire curriculum. But, there are Catholic providers that have developed units studies for certain parts of history including, History Links. The idea behind unit studies is to integegrate as many subjects and grade levels into one area as possible. So, you might take a period of history and study history and the science discoveries that occured during that period as well as the geography and literature. Your spelling words might come out of books that are read about that period and your literature will also be focused on that period. In younger grades, you might do a unit study of farming and study farm animals and plants (science), read great literature (Little House on the Prairie for history and literature). And, you would attempt to have activities for a wide range of ages. The easiest thing you can do is to “google” for “unit study homeschool”. Thousands of people have shared their unit studies and you can start with that and then work to make them Catholic. One protestant provider of a unit study approach is “Konos” and another is “Tapestry of Grace”. I will leave you with some additional links: