When we started our classical homeschool co-op three years ago, we basically had one model — one experience — of a co-op to base our new venture on. I had been a member of a national classical group for about four months and that was the limit of our experience.
There were many things we already knew we wanted to do differently in addition to a our main goal of a more affordable price for our families. We cut the memory work we would do from 24 to 18 weeks. We added a week in between the introduction of each new memory work session to give families more time to internalize and provide context. And on those alternate weeks in between memory work sessions we added history projects, nature study, and handicrafts.
And with this plan we rolled along fine for two years. And then our Scholé Sisters group read For the Children’s Sake last spring and I dove into The Liberal Arts Tradition for a class I was taking with Dr. Perrin this past summer. A few weeks into reading the books I knew we needed to make even more changes.
Goodbye, History Sentences
Perhaps the biggest change we made was eliminating the tedious history sentence memorization. The children had been memorizing two-three sentence facts based on various events in history. Then this gem in The Liberal Arts Tradition spoke to me:
Imagine the possibilities of thinking of these areas of the curriculum as musical education rather than the “grammar of — “. History would not be so many facts to memorize however creatively we do it but an opportunity to use stories from the past to build up a child’s moral imagination …
I knew at that time that we needed to change the way we approached history. We eliminated the history sentences and instead instituted a narration period where students hear a brief reading and practice learning the skill of narration through the use of different group narration techniques.
While we still spend some time memorizing facts, we reduced the overall amount to a shorter collection of the most vital facts. We simply repeat this smaller body more frequently, which frees up time for families to use more of their memory work time for scripture and poetry. It also whittles the body of knowledge down to the most essential, and therefore worth spending the time to memorize.
Basically, it eliminates the fluff.
We also have been contemplating how to foster the growth of piety in our students. We set aside five minutes at the beginning of the first class to read a responsorial Psalm together and to share something for which they are thankful each day.
At the end of the final class of each day we now sing the Doxology, and each student shares with their class one way they have seen God working at co-op that day. The practices are an attempt to keep the students focused on gratitude.
We are still trying to think of practical ways to foster piety. Right now that is taking shape with the idea of regular opportunities for service in the coming year.
Finally, we have abandoned our more structured preschool program — we’re now choosing wonder over worksheets. The mom who has led our program has always gone above and beyond to plan activities and lessons for the kids, but this year she has been willing to listen to ideas about giving the youngsters time to explore the world around them through simple activities and books as opposed to the more structured lessons she has planned in the past.
Now our preschoolers spend their time getting messy with crafty activities, reading good stories, and exploring things though the use of their senses and the arts. And since we cut their formal lesson time to just under an hour, they spend more time in pretend and outdoor play.
As a group we are constantly changing, growing, and trying to make things better. It would be easier to simply rest on what we have done before, following the same plan year after year. Instead, I think we are better for continuing to learn and grow and I am thankful for the moms I have who are willing to take this journey with me.
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