Using the Well-Trained Mind for Your Homeschool

What is "The Well-Trained Mind?"

Many homeschooling parents (particularly those of us who take a Classical approach -- more on this later) consider The Well-Trained Mind, by the mother-daughter team of Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, to be the definitive guidebook to homeschooling in this style.

The Well-Trained Mind takes you through every stage of your child's education, literally from birth until they begin college. It provides plenty of lists, schedules, and book recommendations to successfully homeschool your kids in the Classical style.

What is Classical Homeschooling?

Classical homeschooling is a method based on what is called the trivium. The general idea is that there are three general stages in a child's education: the grammar stage (first through fourth grade), the logic stage (fifth through eighth grade), and the rhetoric stage (ninth through twelfth grade.) Each of these stages is marked by a different aspect of helping the child learn.

In the grammar stage, you are helping your child build a strong foundation for the rest of their education. They are learning the basics of language (spelling, grammar, writing), being introduced to math facts, and just generally being exposed to so many things for the first time. The goal at this stage is to expose your child to a wide range of knowledge, to fill their minds with stories, poems, and facts, and to help them develop a strong work ethic and effective study habits.

The logic stage is all about your child learning to analyze information. They've been absorbing it since first grade; now they learn to really think about what they are learning, to ask questions, to wonder "why?"

The rhetoric stage is about your child mastering expressing themselves. They've learned a lot; they've developed the habit of really thinking about what they've read and heard, now they learn how to develop informed opinions and express them clearly.

Each stage builds on the one before it, both in complexity and in the amount of responsibility your child takes for their education.

Common Aspects of Classical Homeschooling:

  • Language: spelling, writing, reading, copywork, and dictation all have a place in a child's education. Most of your time will be spent on these skills, because unless a child can read and communicate well, they can't succeed in other subjects.
  • History: Every year is devoted to the study of a particular time period, and students will use a base text as well as real, living books to bring what they've learned to life. Students will cycle through Ancient History, Medieval to Early Renaissance, Late Renaissance to Early Modern, and Modern history three times (once in each stage) throughout their homeschooled years.
  • Science: As with history, a different type of science is studied each year, and the student will cycle through them three times before they graduate. They will study biology, earth science and astronomy, chemistry, and physics -- one per year.
  • Latin: Many Classical homeschoolers (but not all) begin studying Latin in the third grade. Others (such as our family) decide to study another language, such as French or Spanish.
  • In general, expect tons of reading, writing, memorization, and a scrupulous attention to detail.

Pros and Cons of Using "The Well-Trained Mind" for Your Homeschool

As with any homeschool program or curriculum, you will find things you like and dislike about The Well-Trained Mind. If you like the idea of plenty of bookwork, drill, and a rigorous approach to homeschooling, Classical education will give you that. If you dislike the idea of using a pre-packaged curriculum, but still want to ensure that your kids are learning everything they should, you will enjoy this method. And if you like being able to decide exactly which books your kids will read, again, this program gives you the flexibility to do that.

If, however, you dislike the idea of a lot of bookwork or written work, then you probably won't like The Well-Trained Mind. If recitation, memorization, and grammar bother you --- this definitely isn't the program for you.

Keep in mind that, as the homeschooling parent, you can customize your homeschooling experience. You don't have to follow the advice in The Well-Trained Mind to the letter. We ignored their timeline/requirement for teaching cursive, and we usually bypass copywork. We decided against Latin and chose French instead because we were more interested in learning that language. As you spend more time with The Well-Trained Mind, you'll learn which parts you like, and which you don't.

The Well-Trained Mind helps you offer your kids a complete, rigorous Classical education from home. If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, the book The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home is the perfect place to start. You can also visit the authors' website for more information.

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