Posted by: mattcolvin | February 4, 2013

Our Homeschooling

We are fairly laid-back classical homeschoolers. (The laid-back part is important for sanity when running around the USA visiting churches, and now adjusting to a new culture here in Davao City.) I know we were always interested in reading about what other homeschoolers do, so I’m posting this for others’ benefit. Please take it in the spirit in which it is offered: not a narcissistic post saying “Look what great homeschoolers we are” (for we are not), but an explanation of our curriculum in hopes that it may be of benefit to others. We stumble and struggle in many ways, and it is not by any means all smooth sailing. It is, however, a joy, and it’s not one I want to give up for any institutional school without overwhelming reasons to the contrary.

We gather as a family each morning to do a version of Cindy Rollins’ “morning time“. For us, this involves the form for Morning Prayer for Families at the back of the REC’s Book of Common Prayer. We do rotating prayers for our senders, changing each week to a new diocese or group of churches or friends. Scripture readings are taken from the Reformed Episcopal Lectionary, and hymns chosen from the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, the blue CRC Psalter Hymnal, the Canadian Reformed Book of Praise, and Duck Schuler’s Cantus Christi. Some of our hymns:

Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah (Ps. 148, Kirkpatrick)
How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place (1982, #517)
Sing, Ye Faithful, Sing with Gladness (1982, #492)
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come (1982, #290)
If God is On Our Side, Against Us Shall Be None (Book of Praise, Hymn 27)
The Son of God Goes Forth to War (Cantus Christi, Greg Wilbur’s tune Greyoaks)
Holy God, We Praise Thy Name
St. Patrick’s Breastplate
As The Hart, About to Falter (Genevan tune for Ps. 42)
Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus (1982, #495)
I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises (Gerhardt, 1659, Cantus Christi)

We also sometimes sing Nick Kozel’s through-composed NKJV psalms, which we learned during our time in the FORC. We add a new hymn maybe once a week or less often. We sometimes discuss the Scripture lessons. I focus on having the older kids draw typological and situational parallels, which trains them to think about the details of Bible stories in a deliberate way. For instance, Ezekiel delighted me today by remembering that the calf of Samaria mentioned in Hosea 8 was set up by Jeroboam.

Since starting in August 2012, our older kids have learned by heart the first 22 questions of the Heidelberg Catechism. (We use the version in the CanRef Book of Praise, which I think has a more pleasing phrasing than the CRC version.) The younger two kids lag behind the older two by about 6 questions or so.

Naomi and Ezekiel have also memorized the following poems, and each recite one of them every morning:

John Donne, “Death Be Not Proud”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “No Man is an Island.”
Robert W. Service, “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”
Kipling, “If.”
Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”
Blake, “The Tyger”

(“If” and “Sam McGee” are fairly long, and require regular review, sometimes with prompting. But they’re neat things to have in a kid’s memory.)

All the kids also memorize passages of Scripture and recite them during Morning time. These are typically about 3-5 verses long. Examples: Matthew 16:24-27, Matthew 5:5-12, Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

We looked at Renaissance art last year and discussed it: Michelangelo’s sculptures and Last Judgment; Dürer’s Rhinoceros, Brueghel’s Tower of Babel. We need to get back on track with this, as we haven’t looked at art in a while.


(Not Dürer’s Rhinoceros.)

That’s it for Morning Time. I would like to add in some music listening and appreciation, but haven’t found a way or a time to do it yet.

For Math, our older kids use Teaching Textbooks. Ezekiel is in Math 7, and Naomi in Math 4. I do not like the fact that they require CDs. Having a kid insert a CD into a MacBook’s slot-loading optical drive is a recipe for scratched discs. So to get around this, I have copied all the discs as disc images using Disc Utility, and the kids run their math off these “virtual CDs”. The younger kids do Miquon Math. Isaiah loves it, and is in the blue book. (This is the kid who was beating his parents at chess at age 6, and whose math skills have been honed to a fine edge by the need to keep score in all the games he loves to play.)


Ezekiel and Naomi also use the computer for typing practice using MasterKey for Mac.

For writing, we are doing exercises adapted from the excellent Classical Writing: Homer. We have the old version of the textbook, from back when it was available as a PDF. (I don’t think they sell it that way anymore.) I was influenced to use this curriculum because Sora used it with Talia many years ago, and it made her a better writer. I was also impressed with the ideas expressed in this blog post about the definition of real literacy, and the skills of which it consists. I want my kids to be able to express their own ideas well, to have copia when they are composing, and to be able to expound and condense. I also want them to have an ear for good writing, i.e. writing that is “sounding and significant,” as C.S. Lewis says. Right now, Naomi is doing paraphrases by synonym substitution, and Ezekiel is doing paraphrases by grammatical change. We are not doing much sentence diagramming or formal English grammar, because I feel that they will get just about enough of that via their studies of Latin.

I use Hans Ørberg’s outstanding Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata series, which covers all of Latin grammar. Ezekiel is on chapter 9, and Naomi is on chapter 4. Yes, this is slow, but I am very pleased with how thorough the book is, and with the excellent vocabulary retention the kids have from it. There are 40 chapters, so Ezekiel will be almost halfway done with Latin grammar by the end of 5th grade this year. I supplement Ørberg with English-to-Latin composition sentences of my own devising. We also do almost all the exercises in the accompanying workbook, and read the dialogues in the Colloquia Personarum book. Kids also review their vocabulary using the Quizlet app for iOS. Some other person has kindly uploaded flashcards for all the vocabulary in the entire book, and the kids enjoy the “Scatter” matching game. I get more grumbling about Latin than any other subject, but I don’t take it too seriously, because I remember how much I grumped about it when my mother taught me, and I chuckle because no other subject was so formative and important in my education. I am intent on giving my kids Latin and Greek and Hebrew before they leave my home. Whether they keep them thereafter is their business. (Our oldest, who graduated last year, appears to be more interested in movies than languages, and has probably forgotten all the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew she ever learned. But she did learn them.)

Finally, the icing on the cake and the most enjoyable portion of the homeschooling day for me is literature. The kids have their own reading that they do in their spare time (lately, this has been The Ranger’s Apprentice and Percy Jackson books borrowed from the Faith Academy Library, and Ashtown Burial series by N.D. Wilson on the iPad’s Kindle app), but we also read together aloud. We have been reading Padraic Colum aloud for the last two months. He is an Irish poet and reteller of mythology and folklore whose books are in the public domain. We first discovered him with The King of Ireland’s Son, which I read aloud for Sora and Ezekiel, and we all enjoyed it so much that I decided to use Colum’s The Children of Odin for Ezekiel’s literature reading as well. Since then, we’ve moved on to The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles. When we finish, we will move on to The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tales of Troy. These books have several great advantages: They are told in a literary manner that is engaging for young readers. They are available as illustrated ePub files that can be read on an iPad. (We have limited sources for physical books right now, and our shipped boxes have not yet arrived from the States.) They also happen to be among the sources for the model exercises in Classical Writing: Homer, so it’s hard to go wrong when picking passages from them to use for paraphrase or transformation exercises. By the time we’re done with Colum this year, our older kids will have a very good grounding in Norse and Greek mythology.

We’ve had a lot of fun with the Colum books so far. Some of the illustrations are just delightful. I call this one “The Argo meets Hokusai’s Wave”:


The kids go to sleep at night listening to the music of Jamie Soles or Alexander Scourby’s reading of the KJV.

I hope this is useful to other homeschoolers. I should reiterate that we are very low-key about all this. We often miss a subject, and probably miss a whole day a couple times a month. But I don’t worry about it because I know how much time-wasting happens in an institutional school (assemblies, convocation, busywork, lessons paced below a student’s ability, etc.). One-on-one instruction is so much more effective that, ceteris paribus, a homeschooler can afford to spend much less time on formal lessons than an institutional school student would.



  1. Your words,expressing the value of the classics, are music to my ears, but that daily grumbling from you when I taught you Latin still haunts me. I knew Latin had been so valuable to me. By the way I never diagrammed a sentence ever, but had many “aha-moments” in first year Latin. Your regular complaints about busy work in public school and obvious lack of any true homework were huge motivation for me to initiate your Latin instruction. It is good to see at last you note the effectiveness of Latin instruction! I challenge anyone who might criticize your curriculum. Your kids have wonderful minds and will provide much satisfaction to you. May the Lord bless all you do!

  2. I enjoyed this post very much! Thanks for sharing.

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