We are a classically-focused homeschooling family. My husband and I have twin teenagers, a boy and a girl. We began homeschooling when they were in third grade, and our focus shifted over the years, but our kids are still classically-educated, even if it sometimes looks eclectic or relaxed.

When we began homeschooling, I followed very closely the Grammar stage of classical education. My kids studied fables and practiced narratives. We read Homer’s Odyssey, the Norse myths, and Hans Christian Andersen. My kids did copywork and Saxon Math, and I poured as many new ideas and facts as I could into them. I drew from curricula like Classical Writing and anything from Memoria Press. We would sit together a couple of times a day and just read together for about a half hour. I tried to do this once in the morning, to start off the day, and once in the afternoon just before we stopped our school time.

Then one day, when they were about ten, I noticed that neither of my children was interested in those facts anymore. They no longer asked for nature documentaries or loved encyclopedias. Instead, my children began putting all the pieces of what they had learned together and making connections between them.

My kids had entered the Logic stage of classical education. Now we began reading books like Treasure Island and Little Women. We stocked up on all the classics I could find. These old books gave my kids practice making connections since many older stories depend on your knowledge of Bible stories and ancient history. These, I read to them out loud. I discovered that if you read aloud to your children, they hear the words and understand the context, and eventually they understand the language as well. My kids still did copywork and spelling tests and math. But I tried to build their “Logic” brain with longer and longer reading sessions and help them connect ideas and facts as we went.

And then, about the time they turned thirteen, both my kids started interrupting me while we read. My son would say something like, “I think the author did not understand that part of history very well.” And then the glory of reading together happened. My daughter began answering my son’s questions. The Rhetoric stage began right there—in our living room.

But this was the point where we stopped following the traditional path of classical education. My kids already knew how to write, and they had learned algebra and spelling. So I relaxed our classical style to let my kids direct their own education and pursue their interests. Our high school looks like a mixture between a relaxed and an eclectic school these days, but it is still classically-focused.

Our reading sessions are now the central part of our homeschool. We read for two or three hours every afternoon. Together we read history, literature, apologetics, logic, and even science. My husband and I made a list of what we want our children to know before they graduate high school. We selected books to match the list. But the order in which we read those books is up to the interests of my children. They decide the path we will take.

As high schoolers, their homeschool day revolves around our reading time, but other subjects they choose to study like music and computer programming are more self-directed. I help them create a course of study for each class with clear objectives and measurable tasks. Then I get out of the way.

Once a month, we have a meeting, and my kids share what they accomplished and what they plan to focus on next, and tell me if they completed a course. This gives my children the opportunity to succeed or fail on their own. It requires a lot of patience on my part and restraint so I don’t step in and remind or tell them how to do something. But after a few failures, they have both figured out for themselves how to be self-directed, set a goal, work consistently, and accomplish it.

Our homeschool is no longer rigidly classical, but the one constant throughout my children’s education really is the time we sit down together and read and share and talk. At this point, my kids are so much smarter and better educated than I am. In fact, there are many days that we sit and read a section of a book, and when we are done I ask, “What did that mean?” And these days I am no longer checking reading comprehension. I really don’t know, and I need their help to understand. For me, it is wonderful to be taught by my kids. That is what our approach to classical education did for us. And that is how we homeschool.

Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring Supplement 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse®Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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  1. How did you get started? We are jumping back into homeschool after three years of public (due to my TBI) and I feel lost. I feel like I had a good routine with my older kids. Now I feel like I need something different for my younger group and don’t know how to start that. I like the idea of a more classical approach. I enjoyed reading how your journey has gone thus far. Thank you for sharing.

    • For me it’s always helpful to just focus on adding one new thing. So maybe scale back to a bare bones routine (meals, chores, whatever is already well established for your family) and just add in one thing that will move you closer to the homeschool you’re envisioning. A family read-aloud, a math program, a foreign language. Just pick one thing. Preferably something you’re excited about as that will filter down to your kids 🙂 Once you’ve taken a few weeks or months to get that down, then add in a second thing. You don’t have to get there overnight! It will seem painfully slow when you have a vision in your mind of what your homeschool could be and the reality seems so far from that, but if you build it slowly over time, you can move toward your ideals in a sustainable way. There’s lots more information about the classical approach and materials you might want to try at homeschoolcompass.com/classical. I hope that helps! Let us know if you have any other questions.

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Kirsten West and her husband homeschool their twin high schoolers using a Classical/Charlotte Mason literature-based approach. She has a doctorate degree in Biophysics, a master’s degree in Experimental Physics, and spent many years teaching and tutoring children and young adults.