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Seeing the Whole Forest, Not Just the Trees

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By Jodi McKenna

Seeing the Whole Forest

Often, complete strangers tell me that they could never homeschool—once they realize why we have the ability to be at the grocery store in the middle of the day. I suppose this is their roundabout way of telling me that I am a superhero.

However, if you followed my cape home, the notion of any iconic figure would quickly be dispelled. Now, you might grant me the title advocate, supporter, or protector. At any given moment throughout the day, I embrace such admirable labels.

But several things I am not: organized or adept at follow-through. You know, the kind of qualities that superhero, multitasking, homeschool moms should have a degree in right?
I am passionate. I have zeal. And I love to learn. (All of which are champion traits, but they don't always guide me in the right or profitable direction.)

For many years I floundered and failed to settle down into a set educational methodology. I adopted several disciplines. We mixed and matched according to the child, rather than the moment. I began to discover that we weren't accomplishing much in our schoolroom. I found myself frustrated and my kids aimlessly occupying themselves (read: getting into trouble) as I decided what we should do next. Though I'm a former schoolteacher, the idea of crafting lesson plans for our one-room schoolhouse seemed daunting to me. I figured that we would go through our textbooks at will when certain children were down for their daily naps.

I wasted so much time stuck in a brain fog.

I just wanted direction. Like Wonder Woman, I wanted a plan that ensured success. Let me put it another way: I wanted to see the whole forest. Not just the trees. My brain focused on all of the leaves attached to those trees. The lack of a complete picture or a desired outcome from our method of education (besides graduation in twelve years) left me depressed, quite honestly. In fact, I couldn't even diagram how we would get our kids to the point of graduation.

What did I really believe in? I needed to define for myself what a quality education looked like.

When I sat down to do my research, I discovered that there were a lot of homeschooling approaches. What I initially thought matched our ideal learning environment shocked me upon further inspection, as I processed perceived versus actual learning outcomes.

I found myself switching our entire curriculum in the middle of the school year. You could hear my textbooks gasp in shock as I sent them packing to the remote corners of our basement. I wrestled with my decision, but in the end accepted the peace and joy our new homeschooling approach brought.

I imagine you are a little curious. What were we studying? What are we studying? While I won't share our banished curriculum, I will share the theory of education that I subscribe to.

Classical Education.

Yes, that does include Latin. No, it is not an extinct language.

Today, classical education is based on the idea that a child's education should include three stages known as the trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

The early years focus on mastering facts. Once children have accumulated copious facts that capture their attention, the educational focus shifts to helping them better understand what the facts mean and how they relate to each other, almost like cross-referencing. As our kids discover the knowledge they have stored, it brings up questions—the famous "Why?" questions that we thought only three-year-olds asked. So, logic is taught. But facts, knowledge, and questions are useless if one cannot express himself or herself clearly. Enter the rhetoric stage, a time when the focus is on having students learn to clearly and effectively communicate.

While there is no way I could possibly guide the trivium on my own man power, I discovered a community that can.

Our family will be enrolling in Classical Conversations this fall.

I don't know who is more excited about it—the kids or I. I am looking forward to memorizing a crazy 160-point timeline. By committing this vast history of human events to memory, I will finally be able to see the big picture.

As I learn Latin, words will make more sense. My vocabulary will expand. My writing will improve. Remote villages will be associated with a location on the map.

But most importantly, I will be learning with my children. Partnering with them. Engaging with them. And truly this is what draws me to classical education. It compels me to be fully present with my children. Aware of their learning and having the ability to truly dialogue with them.

Jodi McKenna blogs at Granola Mom 4 God (http://www.granolamom4god.com/). She takes lots of photographs, and homeschools four children. She brews her own coffee and considers instruction in this art as part of the school day. Jodi is married to her high school sweetheart who supports her passion for fermenting, whole foods, essential oils, home birthing, and gardening.

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