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By the time my oldest was three, I thought I had it all figured out: we would homeschool with the Montessori method in the early years, use Charlotte Mason for elementary/middle school, and then turn to Classical education for high school.
Montessori would prepare the physical and mental skills our kids needed for life and Charlotte Mason would be a gentle introduction to traditional school subjects. Then, in the high school years, we would get to the fun stuff: in-depth conversations on the greatest ideas in human history.
When the time came, we started homeschooling with a mixture of Montessori and CM materials; but I didn’t have a thorough understanding of either approach and made more mistakes than I care to count. To make things worse, I didn’t even understand what we were trying to accomplish overall in educating our children.
In my mind, school was…school. It was something that gave kids the knowledge they need to function in the world.
Without a clear vision, I wasn’t ready for the challenges we faced in. School became a battleground of crumpled papers, severe meltdowns, and daily fishing expeditions for children who were hiding under the table.
Every spring, I would hit a breaking point and declare that we were unschooling for the rest of the year.
So much for having it all figured out, huh?
After several years of this, it became clear that I needed to get a better handle on our homeschool. The kids knew little to no grammar, still struggled with basic math, and had horrible spelling. (They did, however, know more American history and science than I did — but that was only because they had so much spare time for reading!)
Tired of the battles and worried about the kids’ progress, I decided to go back to the one thing they had loved and that had the order we so desperately needed: Montessori.
I joined an online training/mentorship program for homeschool moms, spent hundreds of dollars on Montessori materials, and hundreds of hours making what I couldn’t buy. I studied, practiced, and prepared and we began our Montessori homeschool with three elementary students, two primary, and a toddler.
That year, the kids made progress in grammar and math and we actually made it to April before I let PBSKids and Kahn Academy take over.
I counted the year as a success, but I knew the method wasn’t sustainable for us. I couldn’t keep up with the intense material-making, studying, and absolute objectivity it required of me as their teacher.
Keeping it simple
Then, I became pregnant with our seventh child. I had a history of difficult pregnancies, so we needed a curriculum my husband could manage if I was down.
We used a text/workbook based curriculum that year for our 3rd, 5th, and 6th graders. Our would-be Kindergartener wasn’t ready for formal schooling so I let him play along with his younger sisters.
True to form, it turned out to be a rough pregnancy. Thankfully, the workbooks helped us stay on track and we finished the year.
But they weren’t what we wanted for our children long-term. My Montessori studies (and some maturity!) had shown me the importance of knowing what we were trying to accomplish.
Other than its commitment to teaching our Faith, the workbook curriculum we were using lacked a unifying purpose. Subjects were based on “this is what you learn in this grade”.
Finding our purpose
It was around this time that I read The Well-Trained Mind. I could relate to the “stages of learning” Bauer described since they were very similar to Montessori’s “planes of development”. Plus, as an alumna of a liberal arts college, I had a love of philosophy, history, and the great books.
Things were becoming clearer, but I was still wrestling with the best path forward. I read more about the Charlotte Mason method, I read Church teaching on education, I read more about classical education. I read…alot.
Then, I found the vision statement of St. Jerome Academy in Hyattsville, Maryland, a parochial school that was revitalized by a return to classical education:
St. Jerome School educates children in the truest and fullest sense by giving them the necessary tools of learning and by fostering wonder and love for all that is genuinely true, good, and beautiful. We emphasize classical learning because we want our students to read well, speak well, and think well and ultimately because truth and beauty are good in themselves and desirable for their own sake. We seek to incorporate our students into the wisdom of two thousand years of Catholic thought, history, culture, and arts so that they might understand themselves and their world in the light of the truth and acquire the character to live happy and integrated lives in the service of God and others. Education in this deep and comprehensive sense extends beyond the classroom and is more than just the acquisition of skills. It encompasses the whole of one’s life.The Educational Plan of St. Jerome Academy
These words seeped into my very being. I had found our purpose.
There were struggles, but I was finally confident in my choices. I knew our purpose and I knew that what we were doing supported that purpose.
The kids sensed the difference.
I was also coming to terms with my fear of setting expectations. I had fallen for the modern belief that expectations kill a child’s love of learning; but my fear of expectations was the very thing killing that love.
As I moved forward with vision and confidence, the kids began to thrive. They did things they never thought they could; they surprised themselves at the end of the year, reciting almost everything they had learned in English Grammar Recitation. I’ll never forget the smile on my son’s face when he realized what he had done!
The following year, we began [almost] full cores from Memoria Press. We’ve found our educational home and we’re delighting in the depths of knowledge and beauty it brings.