Thanks for visiting my blog, you can join me by subscribing

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Re-discovering Eclectic Learning

One-room schoolhouse
If there is anything that I have learned these past 25 years of homeschooling, it is that teaching children is not nearly as difficult as we have made it out to be over the past 100 years or so. Familiarizing myself with many of the methods and texts from the 19th century, during the industrial revolution which produced the entrepreneurs, explorers, inventors and leaders who built up our great nation has confirmed this for me. The real problem lies in taking a mind, such as mine, which is used to being fed like a baby penguin with pre-digested food (for thought), and training it to obtain, chew and swallow whole ideas that need to be broken down and digested without being overly influenced by the interpretation of others.

The Pilgrims knew how to obey God and trust Him to show them the next step. Our Founding Fathers also relied upon God Almighty to guide them as they laid the foundations of a government (for and by the people) the likes of which the world had never seen before. The courageous pioneers left their homes in the east fortified with only their self-education and their family Bible.

The Eclectic Series of Learning, and others like it from the same era, were widely used by teachers who may have been no more than 16 years old themselves, yet were in charge of classrooms filled with students of all ages, abilities and diverse backgrounds. Amazingly, I have heard it said, that the entrance requirements for college in those days were much more stringent than the graduation requirements of college in our present times.

So how, indeed, am I utilizing these old texts?

Mother/daughter bond
First, I'm reading and studying them for myself. I'm taking the simplest approach in my perusal of them by allowing the "teacher helps" to suggest the things that are most important to teach my children. When I begin this way, I aid myself in discovering the things I must re-learn. The same is true as I reacquaint myself with mathematics as Ray’s Arithmetics presents it. I have been snatching minutes here and there to prepare myself to teach in this way--reawakening my own discovery instincts. This seems to be most difficult in the primers, since there is so little information per lesson, but there is a reason these are short and sweet. Reading the same material over and over to a small child, as long as it is done with a heart of love, interest and enthusiasm, is an effective way to help him in assimilation--I am thinking here of how many times I've read the same Dr. Seuss books repeatedly to the same child until they have been memorized by the both of us!

It is important to remember that children of the past did not spend as many hours in school--they had families to be a part of, and work to do. I once read that Livingstone, the same physician-missionary-explorer who discovered the head of the Nile River in Africa, attended school for a few hours after work each night, and “received his lessons” in-between attending the thread spools in a cloth factory during the day.

Real learning should never conflict with real life, and so this system is not meant to be an end in itself, but the means to an end. Everything presented has a practical purpose (even learning how to honor God and live a noble life is woven throughout these materials). This is why the lessons are not filled with useless information and are devoid of seat-work. We are so used to workbooks and the like that we feel unsure of ourselves without them, but as long as the material is presented well, and then mastered through repetition and oral recitation, we can rest assured that nothing further is necessary!

The Good Shepherd
This works very well with our family's motto “Homeschooling is everything, and everything is homeschooling.”

I've also come to the conclusion from much of the literature that I have read from the 19th century that “getting one’s lessons” meant reading and memorizing information so that it could be recited before the class. My children that already read will be required to practice reading out loud and to have the suggested spelling words memorized for oral recitation. The same thing goes for the math facts in Ray’s Arithmetics.

Enlightening ideas I have gleaned from numerous homeschooling authors are being confirmed to me--treating each child as a scholar, not a dullard; small, consistent lessons are better, especially at young ages; work, exercise and play are important; working at one’s own level and pace for mastery is best. For instance, in the preface of one of the primers I noted an extremely important quote, "To awaken noble sentiments, and to sow seed for good in the hearts of children, should be the aim of ever teacher." 

A great question is the requirements of the State. There should be no conflict here at all. I'm convinced that any child beginning at the age of six with Ray’s and McGuffey’s should easily out-perform any public-schooled child in any standardized test by the age of eight--given he has had adequate time and resources for delight-directed studies and is familiarized with test-taking strategies. The methods employed here will give a better education in a few years than is given in 12 years in most modern schools.

My dear son can attest to this. He is a store manager over a number of employees with high school diplomas, several headed for college, who cannot perform basic math to run a cash-register. Eighth-grade students of the 19th and early 20th century could do most figures in their heads!

Also, building a portfolio with these books would not be difficult at all. Ruth Beechick has created charts to keep track of just the things an educator would deem important and that would aid a parent in creating a proper presentation. It would not be difficult to create one without her help, however.

I have purchased composition books from Roaring Spring for the youngest set and steno books for the older set for practice and copy work. I will also be creating rings for memorization of certain basic facts. Our wipe-off board should be employed regularly as well. I have also become sort of a public-domain junkie and have been downloading and printing and comb-binding more books. The children have been begging me to get started on our new, old “program” (I'm having so much fun!). My husband is just as excited as I am, and it was at his suggestion that I took a break to write this post so that you could become encouraged, too.

If a 16-year-old young lady could teach a whole classroom using these old texts, it can’t be “rocket science,” just a different way of approaching learning; a better way.

I will be posting my own discoveries as we continue this interesting journey together. Please feel free to share some of your eclectic education discoveries too!

* This post was originally published on June 2010. 


  1. I am curious about Ruth Beechick's charts that you mentioned. What book of her's are they in? I've heard about Ruth for years but have just recently really begun to read more from her and see all her wisdom! :) I also appreciate this blog and all of YOUR wisdom that you are sharing. Thank you!

    1. Ruth's charts are called "The ABC's and All Their Tricks" and can be found from CBD, Amazon, etc.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to share the wisdom you have learned. Your book and your blogs, Ruth Beechick's books, the Clarksons' books (Clay and Sally) and the Eclectic Education Series have all been a huge blessing and encouragement to me as we set out on this scary, exciting journey of faith! After 4 years of homeschooling with boxed curriculums and workbooks/textbooks and just a few living books, we are using only the Eclectic Education Series this year... well, and all of the real books we can get our hands on! You are a leader among women. :)

    1. So glad that I could be an encouragement to you, blessings for your journey!