Friday, 30 October 2015

Thoughts on Classical Education and Paganism.

I am a pagan.
My son is not, though he sometimes identifies as such.  I share my knowledge and traditions with him as and when he's interested.  We revere nature, I teach the planet is sacred and to be tread upon as lightly as we can.   Classical Education(CE) is a pedagogy unfamiliar with paganism; it is mostly used by Christian home educators.  The coupling of CE and paganism works beautifully. Specifically, I employ "The Well Trained Mind" route.  CE emphasises classical literature, and exploration of myths and folktales.  The path I tread and which my son skips alongside; is sat upon a bedrock of myth, folk tales and traditions, alchemy, magic and a thirst for knowledge.

The reading and grammar lessons draw upon good literature; supplementing is encouraged, for us this means folktales, myths and legends and yes some bible stories; after all, much of our literature is based on biblical themes.  I include how these stories shape my path and my personal gnosis and in doing so my son develops his own gnosis.  There is room for the ridiculous and imaginative fancifulness; a childhood magic, different, to be sure, from the magic I weave, magic nonetheless.

An oft heard complaint is that CE is christian based.  Categorically, it is not.
Just as I can weave a pagan thread through the curriculum, so can a christian.  The CE curriculum is comprehensive and laid out for the home educator.  Albeit, it can be a little dry, employ a little imagination and flexibility and the curriculum comes alive.  Nor does one need to adhere to the suggestions regarding the amount of time spent each day on lessons, the reading hour and so forth.   All the blogs I've found where the home education is CE based, appear to be school like.  This does not appeal to me, or my son.  I am his facilitator not his teacher.   I used the CE curriculum to set a direction for our learning. We are somewhere in the middle of formal home education and autonomous home education.

How does this work practically?
My son is currently improving his reading ability.  I believe he is dyslexic; he exhibits virtually all the classical cues.   Memory difficulties means he often "forgets" sight words he's learned, and he needs constant reminding to try sounding out the letter sounds.   "The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading" provides the structure, along with useful revision reminders.  Each lesson is short with suggested additional activities.  This is the method I employ:

"Table Time:  we will look at the lesson together, usually taking no more than 10-15 minutes.

Additional Activities:  these often employ magnetic boards, letters, words and flash cards.  I use dyslexic technique of incorporating my son's different senses when learning new words and digraphs. For example, one of the activities is using words written on cards to make up sentences - which can be as silly and ridiculous as he likes.  I may add perhaps lego or plasticine to the activity, and ask him to "illustrate" his sentence with models.  I've found this helps to keep him engaged in the activity, so he's focused on the words.  I encourage my son to complete one activity during our Table Time there's no time limit here, he can spend as long as he likes on the task.

My son likes to sing, those silly sentences make funny songs.  Added benefit, he is also playing his ukulele while singing (reading the words off the index cards); or he's dancing/acting out the sentences.  This allows him to expand that fidgety energy and turns what use to be a trigger for my annoyance, into a positive learning tool.

CE advocates repeating thrice words/poems etc throughout the day.  This works well with an energetic child.  He blasts into the flat, hopping and chatting ten to a dozen.
"Sing your silly song to me," and he'll dance around singing it.
"Your Quest is to read these words to win a magical reward"  If he fails, no worries he can try again, next time he bounces in.
"Read the sentence to gain entry"

Initially, I employed "reading hour" too, which is where the child spends an hour in their room, or quiet space, looking at books, or listening to audio books.  Playing with anything else is not allowed.  The idea being to create a habit of reading.    Sadly, reading hour became a bit of a battle.  CE tutors staying firm, I prefer to be sensitive to my son's feelings and find "Sofa Time" much more fun and productive.  Sofa Time tends to happen on an evening, we snuggle up on the sofa and I read a book of my choosing and I'll read my son's choice(s) too.  I particularly love sofa time in the autumn, light candles, make hot chocolate - becomes a wonderful treat and a magical time to read folk stories and myths.

I had planned for 3 lessons a day - perhaps maths, handwriting practise and reading, another day the space project, history, science and so forth.  I've found reserving 2-3 days for reading only lessons works best.  Reading expends so much mental energy that asking my son to then do other concentrated learning activities is a recipe for disaster.  Those days we play board games, craft, my mobility allowing, we go for a wander in the park noticing the changing seasons, talking about trees, dryads, plant correspondences, whatever tickles our fancy.

For each area of learning I follow the basic structure of providing instruction or information, then cementing that knowledge through activities and crafts and repetition.  Reading is hard work for my son, consequently, so is handwriting, happily CE supports and encourages narration.  I believe this to be very important for my son, his memory is actually very good; his struggle with remembering some words is less a memory retention issue, and more his memory gets scrambled as he becomes stressed/tired/frustrated. My hope is by continually working his memory, and demonstrating his using his memory; memory paths in his mind will be further developed and my son's confidence and self esteem will increase, impacting on his self belief.

I use CE learning strategies when sharing information regarding my path.  My son is about to learn the tarot, specifically the Wild Wood tarot deck.  A beautifully visual pack.  Each card has a myriad of symbolism, and as we learn together, we will use keywords on cards, creating our own decks, exploring our feelings, dreams.  A wonderful way to delve into mythology, symbolism, nature, imagination, psyche and archetypes.

Employ CE as a learning tool with a sprinkle of imagination and its a wonderful curriculum that is suitable for any home educator who desires a literacy based curriculum.  Pinterest contains lots of ideas on how supplement the basic lessons with fun activities; and  to be fully CE led; many blogs and websites are available to show how to implement the CE curriculum.  We choose to cherry pick the parts of the pedagogy that suit us and with some trial and error (see "Pushing"), we are settling into a routine that is working.

CE is not just the purview of christian home educators.  The curriculum itself is secular; there are reading lists which incorporate a christian worldview, read them, or not, there is choice.   The main thing, in my opinion, about  the Well Trained Mind brand of CE is it's written by American mother and daughter duo, so the reading lists favour american literacy, and most of the Pinterest content is also american.   Bear this bias in mind and it's not an issue.  Supplement some of the american literacy with British literature, adapt activities based on american geography/history etc to British and all is good.


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