Consider this basic maxim of homeschooling: "There is only so much time in the day."
Keep this idea in mind as you decide which of the many subjects your child will study throughout his school-age years. What's the best use of each day's time?
In our last article we discussed the ten things to do with children in the "pre-grammar" level, before age ten. "Formal" academics, a stack of textbooks and workbooks, are not necessarily the most important use of our time with children before age ten. But at age ten, most children are entering the grammar level. This is approximately the age when children are ready for more "formal" academics. Around age ten, the light bulb goes on. The brain becomes physically able to make more complex connections, which, among other things, makes your child more able to handle abstract concepts and helps your child with self-management and self-control. The parent will be the most intensely involved in the child's education from ages ten through twelve.
The following is a list of ten things we believe are most important for children in the grammar level (ages ten through twelve).
1. Family Worship
Regular family worship is not just an add-on. It's central. At age ten, your child is able to grow rapidly in the knowledge of the Scriptures, through his father's instruction.
Begin on a daily basis to require your child to read something in the area of classical fiction, poetry, or short stories. Of course, many children are already doing lots of reading on their own by this age. Old readers, such as McGuffeys, are good sources for this type of literature. Use the library. It's not necessary to buy graded reading textbooks. Continue requiring narration. We suggest that you stay away from light reading (Jeanette Oake, Hardy Boys, The Boxcar Children, American Girls, etc.). You want your children to develop an appetite for "nutritious" literary "food," not literary "fast food." Though your children are now reading on their own, continue to read aloud to them one to two hours per day. It will be one of your favorite parts of homeschooling. Continue memorizing and reciting aloud passages of literature or poetry.
3. Spelling & Grammar
By age ten, the abstract grammatical concepts of noun, verb, and direct object are clear to your child, and English grammar (or any language's grammar, for that matter) can be readily learned. Three years of English grammar study (ages ten through twelve) are sufficient. Your child will be studying Latin or Greek grammar by age thirteen, which will render the study of English grammar superfluous - he will get it all in his Latin or Greek.
4. Latin & Greek
Age ten is a good time to start Latin grammar. A ten-year-old could spend fifteen minutes per day on Latin, while a twelve-year-old might increase that to thirty minutes. Your child should regularly review the Greek alphabet and pronunciation system, practicing his pronunciation with some interlinear reading. This will prepare him for a study of Greek grammar at age thirteen. We recommend that each child make his own Latin language notebook and Greek language notebook, where he records in separate sections such things as technical terms, vocabulary, noun paradigms, verb paradigms, etc.
5. Art & Music
If you want your children to be familiar with classical art and music, check out some prints or recordings from the library, buy some to own, or take your children to the art museum or the orchestra. At this age, you will need to critically evaluate and select things for them. Provide your children with the tools, the space, and the time for art projects. You may choose to pursue a formal art curriculum, or to begin formal instruction in music.
At this age, you may require your children to read something every day of a historical nature. Biographies, autobiographies, and historical fiction are ideally suited for this purpose. You can search the library for many of these books. You will need to critically evaluate and select things for them. It's not necessary to buy graded history textbooks. Practice narration. Continue the time line. Keep maps on the walls and locate the events your children are reading about.
At age ten, children are still in the grammar level, so any "logic" they do is really "pre-logic." Building Thinking Skills (Critical Thinking Books and Software) is an excellent workbook to develop these pre-logic skills and prepare them for a more formal course in logic at age thirteen.
Ten-year-olds are perfectly capable of jumping right into a sixth-grade math textbook (such as Saxon Math 65) with no previous experience with math workbooks or textbooks. Skipping grades K-5 in math will in no way hinder your child's success in math. You don't have to wear out your child's interest and your own patience trying to get him to understand what his brain just isn't wired to handle yet. Waiting until age ten, when your child is developmentally prepared to handle mathematical concepts readily, makes instruction in arithmetic very easy. What was painfully spread over five previous years may here be compressed painlessly into a month.
We are not saying that you should keep your child away from numbers before age ten. Not at all. By age four, most children have discovered money, and you won't be able to hide numbers from them after that. Children encounter numbers all of the time. If you encourage learning, they'll be asking lots of questions, and you'll have plenty of opportunities for non-formal instruction in numbers and measurements. But we would not encourage formal workbook instruction before age ten unless the child shows a genuine interest and genuine competency to handle the work.
Before age ten, the child is largely acquiring the verbal skills of language, and your time is better spent developing his vocabulary, which is the primary index of intelligence. Remember the maxim: "There is only so much time in the day." Your time may be much better spent reading aloud to your children than struggling with math concepts your child isn't ready to handle.
We require the addition and subtraction facts to be memorized by age eleven, and the multiplication and division facts to be memorized by age twelve.
Much more could be said on this subject. Suffice it to say that formal instruction in math before age ten is historically a very recent phenomena. So are all of the problems which have developed in math instruction, hence the invention of the more "informal" manipulative curricula.
Your child can read daily something touching on science or nature. The library may have useful materials here, or you can purchase some of the nature readers reprinted by Christian Liberty Academy. Practice narration. We view creation science videos perhaps twice each month. (These can be rented from Midwest Creation Fellowship, Box 479, Gurnee, IL 60031).
Perhaps you could purchase a booklet of blank pages for your child and encourage him to keep a nature study notebook where he can make little drawings of bugs, plants, or animals. He could label each drawing with its Latin name. The grammar level is the "observation" level. Provide your child with the tools (as we mentioned in our last article) and the opportunities (plenty of time for exploration and experimental observation). Visit your local Science and Engineering Fair every spring and observe all the different science projects. This will help develop ideas for science projects he can present when he is thirteen.
Require your child to write something every day. Girls usually have no problem with this assignment and take off writing poetry and short stories. Boys often need more help and encouragement to put the first word down on paper. It seems some boys are allergic to pencils. For the very reluctant, you may begin by writing his thoughts for him as he narrates them, or he may narrate them into a tape recorder. At least it's a start. You may choose to simply continue copy work for a while.
Some ten-year-olds may be able to keep a journal. Have them write a short paragraph every day in a little booklet or notebook. Next, have them write letters to relatives or pen pals. Don't expect more than short, factual letters at this age. Require the final draft of letters to be neat and error-free. Keep composition relatively simple until they reach the logic level.
Next time we will discuss a suggested course of study for children at the logic level (ages thirteen to fifteen).