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Classical Education

A Question & Answer Session With Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn

October 12-20, 2001

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn of Trivium Pursuit, authors of Teaching the Trivium (Buy the book at Amazon / Christianbook), were guests on the HomeschoolChristian.com message boards during a week in October, 2001.

WORKING INDEPENDENTLY

Sonja: Is it OK that my kids don't seem to want to, or be able to, work independently?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: If your children have been used to working with a primarily workbook/textbook based curriculum and you change to a more literature-based or unit study curriculum, then it will take awhile for them to switch gears. They will need to learn to work independently, and it will take time. I think it is perfectly normal and right and acceptable for your children to want you beside them as they work. My two boys were like that. They wanted me right there sitting on the couch next to them while they did math and grammar and other subjects. That lasted till age 13 or 14 or so, and eventually they preferred to work independently in their rooms. On the other hand, my 3 girls seldom needed me to help. Savor the moment. Today, I would give my right arm to have someone ask me if I would sit beside him and help with his math.

READING ALOUD

Sonja: How much should we read aloud? What should we read?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: I would think that your morning get-together time of reading aloud would be enough for one day. It's hard to put an exact time on it, but perhaps somewhere in the range of 5-15 minutes per child per day of the child himself reading aloud to the rest of the family. I would allow the child to choose the subject matter for his read-aloud.

Concerning you reading aloud to the children, we have always thought that 2 hours per day was a good amount to spend in parent read-alouds. Mom could read aloud 1 hour during the day, and Dad could read 1 hour in the evening. That one hour doesn't have to be in one long stretch, but could be divided up as your schedule allows. Of course, with some books, such as Otto of the Silver Hand or The Thirty-Nine Steps, you will have a hard time stopping!

What subjects should you read aloud? I would include fiction (including historical fiction), biographies, science (in the younger years), or whatever else you enjoy reading. One of the first books I read aloud to my kids in 1981 was Treasure Island. It was a book I had always wanted to read, and I knew that with 4 very young children I'd never have the time to read it to myself, so decided I might as well entertain the kids with it.

BIBLE

Donna in IN: What do you suggest for a good Bible study for children 14, 12, and 11?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: I'm not sure if you're asking for a curriculum or for a method. I'll give you some definitions and principles.

In an inductive Bible study, we gather careful observations from Scripture, and we draw general conclusions. So an inductive study is usually a textual study a study of one particular passage of Scripture.

In a deductive Bible study, we connect Biblical facts in a logical order in order to arrive at necessary conclusions. So a deductive study is usually a topical study a study of many passages which touch on a particular subject.

If you were going to do an inductive study, you might pick a certain book of the Bible, or a longer continuous passage, such as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), or the Lord's Final Discourse (John 13-17). If you were going to do a deductive study, you might use the proof texts of one of the confessions or catechisms as a starting point to deduce the doctrines of Scripture.

Younger children are in the Knowledge Level, and may be trained to make careful observations of fact. So as you read a passage, you may ask one to narrate it back, and have others fill in any details which the narrator may have missed.

As children approach the teens, they should be developing their capacity for reasoning the Understanding Level. So after you've rehearsed the facts, you will expect the near teens to make logical connections and careful evaluations and interpretations of the passages you read. (Once in a while the younger children will have something important to contribute here also.)

The older teens are developing the skills of effective communication and application the Wisdom Level. Of course, the other children will make applications as well, but you particularly expect it from the later teens. Try not to close Bible study without some practical applications.

Your job would be to train the Knowledge Level to make accurate observations, teach the Understanding Level to draw careful conclusions, and coach the Wisdom Level to express themselves well and apply things effectively. Remember, all children of all age levels are developing all three of these capacities - Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom all of the time, but certain age levels are focused on certain levels.

Sonja K.: When children memorize scripture, how can we be sure they will know the passage a year or 10 years from now? Do you need to do periodic reviews? Or will the Holy Spirit bring the passage to their minds when they need it? And therefore it isn't critical if they can't recite a passage word for word that they had previously memorized?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: First, the practice of memorization is a mental discipline which strengthens the mind and carries its own reward.

Second, without some regular review, the memory often fades.

Third, I believe the Holy Spirit can bring things forward in our minds, but they have to be in our minds before He can bring them forward.

Fourth, it isn't memorizing if it's not word for word. We may begin to lose confidence that we have the right idea from Scripture if we cannot rely upon our memories. Often enough I have thought some idea was in Scripture, but when I went to look for it, I found my understanding to be quite inaccurate.

Psalm 119:11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
Psalm 37:31 The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.
Psalm 119:97 O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day.
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

SCIENCE/MATH

Lorinda: My 9th grade son is very science and math oriented - I'm not! What would you suggest? Is there a good online or correspondence course for these two subjects?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: Over the years we have tried a variety of science curricula. When our children were young, we studied science in an interest directed manner. We would check out science books from the library, and I would read them aloud to the children or they would read by themselves. We would occasionally do simple experiments at home. We attended science fairs and museums and just generally investigated things in nature as we came across them. From 1988 to 1993 we participated in science fairs and science competitions (in our book we have a list of national science contests open to homeschooling families). If you ask my son Nate, he'll tell you that he learned the most about science from those years.

As far as a structured science curriculum, we have used numerous sources. One year we used the Bob Jones Biology textbook, and Nate simply read the text and outlined some of the chapters. That worked OK as far as learning the basics of biology, plus he learned how to outline. That particular textbook is excellent. For a couple of years we used the University of North Dakota high school correspondence courses for chemistry and biology. I wouldn't recommend those. Their textbooks aren't nearly as good as Bob Jones. One year Nate used the ABeka physics video course. I would recommend that course if you have a child who needs a lot of help with physics and if you are a millionaire. Hans and Johannah took the ABeka chemistry video course one year. We weren't happy with that course.

But, if I had to do it all over again, I would use the biology, chemistry, and physics courses from Jay Wile (See all of Apologia's products at Christian Book Distributors' Apologia specialty shop.) with all of my children. They are excellent. Three of my kids used the biology, and 2 used the chemistry. I even started the biology course myself, but got so interested in his chapter on Protozoa that I stayed there for a couple of months. We bought a wonderful used university microscope (the place where we bought it is no longer in business) and I had the time of my life investigating the different types of Protozoa. Jay Wile has written his courses to be totally self-teaching. There are labs included in the courses, and he tells you where to buy all the equipment you need for those. I think somewhere on this web site is an interview with Jay.

Concerning math, there are numerous good math curricula available to homeschooling families. Except for the geometry part of Saxon's Advanced Math textbook, we liked Saxon. (See the Saxon Math line of books at Christian Book Distributors' Saxon specialty shop.) But if it didn't work for your child, then you should go to something different. If he is good at math, then he shouldn't need an online or correspondence course -- you'd be spending extra money needlessly. Harold Jacobs' Algebra is supposed to be good, and we loved his geometry text.

LATIN

Donna in IN: What Latin program would you suggest for beginning students from 6th to 9th grades?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: Most Latin programs have enough information in them that any good teacher who knows Latin well can teach from any of them. Obviously, certain programs will work better for certain teachers, and for certain students.

An inductive grammar will work better for someone who has a conversational aptitude for other languages. However, with classical languages, conversational aptitude is not nearly so important as grammatical aptitude because the authors of classical literature did not write for conversational communication, but for careful comprehension. So a grammar of a classical language which is largely inductive may not serve one's purposes well.

A deductive grammar will work better for someone who is rather methodical and systematic in his approach to things. It also matches better the goal of studying classical literature.

A programmed interactive grammar uses both inductive and deductive methods, but in a more effective manner. However, if you want to do the teaching, you may not like a programmed grammar, because it does all of the teaching for you.

If you use inductive or deductive grammars, you will need to do some preparation before teaching. If you are not familiar with Latin, you will probably need to do quite a bit of preparation before teaching. But if you use a programmed interactive grammar, all of the preparation has already been done by the teacher - which is the text itself.

Of course, I don't know your children, but if they've studied English, French, and Spanish grammar and done well, then they probably could handle about anything. Most grammars are deductive grammars. Matin Latin is a deductive grammar. I'm not familiar with Our Roman Roots. Artes Latinae is an interactive grammar, and it works well for most families. The old rule "you get what you pay for and you pay for what you get" holds generally true, but there are some overpriced as well as some underpriced programs in classical languages.

HISTORY

Would you please give some specifics on how to do a history timeline?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: Of all the timelines we have made, the ones I like the best consist of 22 sheets of computer paper (the old computer paper came all attached, end to end -- today you would need to tape the paper together to make one long piece) with a line drawn down the middle from one end to the other. So, you would have a line 242 inches long. At one end of the line you would have 4004 BC and at the other end you would have approximately 2000 AD. Then you would mark off the line so that there would be 4 inches for every hundred years. It is true you would not have room for every event in history with such a timeline, but this size seems to be manageable and still have room for all the major events. This would be a suggestion for a timeline for all of history. If you wanted to make a timeline for some small project in history where you are studying just a particular event, then you would mark off the years differently. You might have 4 inches for every 2 years, for instance. Every time we did a project for National History Day or for our local history fair I would have the children do a small timeline for their particular project.

Your idea of the 3X5 cards is wonderful. I would just continue having your children record history in that manner till they are a bit older, or perhaps you will find ways of expanding that method of study which could replace having a notebook. Perhaps the decorated 3X5 cards could be taped onto a timeline. That would make a beautiful piece of art for your wall (or should I say, walls). The problem with timelines is that few people have the wall space for long ones.

Yes, studying history can be at times confusing, especially if you are an overly organized person like me who wants everything laid out A-B-C-1-2-3. You have to make those decisions as you go concerning what to leave out and what to include.

More on timelines -- here is a resource you might want to look into:

Parthenon Graphics -- Timeline Posters of History www.parthenongraphics.com
Box 200621
Arlington, TX 76006

All timeline posters are 44" long by 8.5" tall, laminated, and in full color. Each poster also comes with mounting squares for easy display.

Timeline of Ancient Civilizations
Timeline of Ancient Egypt
Timeline of the Roman Empire
Timeline of the Old Testament
and many others are available.

RAISING DAUGHTERS

Sonja K.: Was there any particular resource you used to encourage your daughters in desiring to be keepers of home. What would you suggest I say to my daughter (9 years old) when she says she'd like to be a medical missionary (or some other profession)?

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: The book she will read every day is you -- how you behave, your attitudes, etc. It's not what your daughter would like to do, but what the Lord calls her to. His call will follow His order of things. Perhaps some "professions" can be followed within that order. Here are some resources we have on our shelf:
Letters on Practical Subjects to a Daughter by William B. Sprague
Female Piety or the Young Woman's Friend and Guide through Life to Immortality by John Angell James (first published 1860)
Mother -- A Story by Kathleen Norris (first published 1911)

SPELLING

Martha R.: Do you have any suggestions for improving spelling in those who seem not to be "natural" spellers? My 11 yo ds can spell a word 3 ways in one paragraph. Each time it is spelled phonetically correct, but not in the accepted manner.

Laurie and Harvey Bluedorn: Watt due ewe mene bye thys kweshtun?

If his spelling is always phonetic, then he obviously does not have a decoding problem, but an encoding problem. He has some difficulty in fixing in his mind the one correct encoding out of many possible encodings. The many possible encodings is what has made English able to grow and adapt until it is now by far the largest language ever. There is a lot of etymology in the spelling, so if you have a big dictionary with etymologies in the definitions, look them up. This may help fix some encodings.

Pick a particular problem, and teach to the problem. If it's the spelling of a particular word, teach the spelling rules which apply to that word. If it's a systematic misspelling, teach the systematic rule which applies to that category. Don't overwhelm him at first. Just examine his writing and pick one problem and work on it for maybe a week, then another for the next week.

Many thanks to the Bluedorns for sharing their thoughts with us here at HomeschoolChristian.com!

Related HomeschoolChristian.com Resources

Interview with the Bluedorns
HomeschoolChristian.com's Classical and Charlotte Mason Resource Section
Review of Teaching the Trivium by the Bluedorns
Review of Lives In Print
Review of Hand That Rocks the Cradle
Review of How to Be a Civil War Re-enactor
Review of A Greek Alphabetarion
Review of Greek Hupogrammon
Review of Ancient History from Primary Sources
Review of The Fallacy Detective
Review of The Thinking Toolbox
Review of Logic in 100 Minutes
Review of Bless the Lord
Review of Little Bitty Baby Learns Hebrew and Little Bitty Baby Learns Greek
Review of The Lord Builds the House
Review of Mr. Pippin
Review of My Mommy, My Teacher