A banquet host doesn't force-feed his guests, neither does he ignore basic nutritional needs. I don't want our homeschool to make either error. Intensely rich and nutritious subjects such as Latin and math are taught in shorter segments for longer periods of time. We begin high school courses in sixth or seventh grade, so we can take a longer time in these areas if needed. Late bloomers may finish high school later, but with full accomplishment. Main courses such as science and history are both planned and unplanned. Everyone's energy level goes up and down, so we may have some intense periods of study planned in the year. In between, family or individual themes have time to surface.
My husband recently went on a Titanic binge (the real story, not the popular movie) and we all couldn't help being moved by his enthusiasm. We all found ourselves reading and learning about the significance of that event. My daughter went on a Sense and Sensibilities jag and we all got dragged into the novel and the video and great discussions about the themes and motives of the book. I designed the children's log books to capture these periods of real learning, yet provide structure for those uninspired downtimes when a unit may flounder midstream.
The Grand Scheme
To be true to the Banquet Approach let me present our recent study of Rome (the story) that gives you a mental picture of what we do (hands-on) and breaks it down into stages (framework).
All of our children begin their day cleaning their rooms and listening to a homemade tape that incorporates all the following: a history tape by Veritas Press that details the main events in Greek and Roman history, catechism questions (each repeated three times), math facts, Latin sentences and related paradigms, violin pieces, and Bible memory verses. The younger children also have family rules, manners, and character trait definitions on their tapes.
Before breakfast, the children are well into their "school-time" material. My 3-year-old, Isaac, recently said to himself while playing, "Wisdom is thinking God's way." It does stick! Relationship is built between our nine children as they learn the songs together. Research suggests that new subject mastery progresses through similar stages no matter what the age of the student; the time frame just changes. At home, your older children can master a "grammar" of facts, read little kids' books to siblings (for basic concepts), and progress rapidly to deeper thinking.
Pre-Trivium (Ages 2-7)
"Categories" is a good word for this phase. He is figuring out that things have certain places where they belong, bedtime has certain routines, food has various forms, as do colors, toys, and books. Some children will learn to ask for water, when what they mean is they want a drink. Later, they will recategorize and ask for a drink, knowing that water is only one of a kind of drink. The child is in effect labeling file folders to later fill with information.
Younger children must become equipped to enter the "grammar" stage. They are not "fact hungry" like the 8-10 year old, but they are building the senses, coordination, and cognitive ability that will form the mental file folders to store the host of facts they will begin to memorize.
While we know that little children can memorize nonsensical jingles, this is not the time to stuff them with facts. What they desire is to make sense of the world. They do this by creating categories for things in their minds. Later those facts will form a bridge from what the child knows to how he uses it, from "grammar" to "rhetoric" stages. The vehicle that gives facts both category and understanding is story.
At breakfast, Tim has been reading stories of Christian martyrs from the Roman era, or about other historical figures from that time, such as Hannibal. Later I read aloud about Horatius and we made "Roman soldier" outfits. Peter (7) acting as brave Horatius, held the bridge (playset) against invading Etruscans. His live props included Timmy (5), and Issac (3), who look more like Roman chickens than soldiers in their homemade crested vinyl helmets. These two like to stomp about claiming to be Spartacus or Brutus (never mind that these two weren't contemporaries, they are getting the gist of what Rome was). Bonnie (8) and baby Ben (1) suffered with "hunger" during the subsequent "siege." When Peter came back in to complete some detail to his costume, I overheard him saying, "I love this! I love this!"
Grammar Phase (Ages 8-10)
"Filling" is a good word for this phase. The child is filling his files with facts (say that three times fast!). It is astounding the amount of facts children can absorb at this stage - they gobble up encyclopedias with ease. My son Scott (11) continually reports his latest new fact find, currently some obscure minutia about Roman weaponry. Scott is building his timeline pages in earnest, studying through the lives of famous Romans and detailing their stories and facts.
Dialectic Stage (Ages 11-13)
"Connections" might be the one word to describe this phase. At this point the student will step back from the timeline and suddenly "see" how the cultures interact. He'll begin to put together the stories he has been gathering in the grammar stage, and compare them with new stories he is reading. It would be a dull piece of textbook work that laid this all out for him, especially without the use of story. I think neatly connected material undercuts this stage that is all about the joy in discovering those connections. When a child actively constructs connections between stories, or relates new material to old, he is developing that habit of mind that makes an active learner.
James, 13, recently picked up a magazine article that would have been previously dull to him, saying, "Oh! Now I get this!" He proceeded to share how that story related to something he had just learned about Rome. Not only do we share the information, we share the relationship of knowing we each understand that information. This is the beauty of homeschooling, I can extend my child's learning and insight, because I am reading books on Rome, too. As we we discuss these connections it is an opportunity to relate the Christian worldview to my child. In this friendly fashion, Tim and I can deepen the relationship with our child mentoring him into young adulthood.
Rhetoric Stage (Ages 14-16)
Now that mental files have been created, filled, and connected, the student is ready to use them productively. Story still has great value in this phase. A good story can move beyond facts and the connections between them to intuit underlying motives. This builds discernment. The students can step back from their mental file folders and consider how they might use the contents to persuade or delight an intended audience.
They discuss the motives that preceded the actions of the characters in Julius Caesar, and their own need for expression is pulled off with polish as they persuade their audience through performance to either condemn or condone a character's behavior. By memorizing Marc Antony's speech, you absorb his rhetoric. Christie's (15) rendition of Portia convinces one of the intelligent and submissive goodness of Brutus' wife. Brian (18) notes in an essay that while Plato wanted to organize people for the good of the state, the Scriptures teach that every man should use his gifts to build the body of Christ.
Hands-on activities become serious work in this phase. The young adult homeschooler has the freedom to develop passionate interests which begin to become economically productive. Carpentry is now done for hire, artwork sells at a local boutique, computer programming becomes client-based, musical skills are sought for weddings. Witnessing is a powerful use of rhetoric, as is preaching.
Our young people must know their history, be committed to personal integrity, then apply with wisdom those principles and Scriptures that best address the issues in our culture. Then will the goal of our homeschool see fruit: the arrows shot from our home in turn reach out in compassion to bring others to the Banquet of the King!