Well-Trained Mind Binder System

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We have been using the Well-Trained Mind binder system recommended by Susan Wise Bauer in her seminal book for several years now. It occurred to me that there might be homeschoolers out there who would like to see it in action. In fact, I have seen this question over and over in support groups for classical homeschoolers.

Well-Trained Mind binder system

My daughter’s binders

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So let’s start with a few pictures. Their binders sit on separate shelves in our school room. I am not a perfectionist when it comes to appearance. I don’t go all out when it comes to layout and design. A simple label on the outside of the binder helps us identify the name of the child and the subject matter. Continue reading »

If you want to beautify the binders, by all means, make them as pretty as you want. I grew up under Communism (think austerity measures) and don’t need things around me to be super-glitzy. As long as it works, I run with it.

We have four binders for each child: Science, History, Language, and Math. They also have an Art binder and a Travel binder. My son has two additional binders which are empty. He meant to do something with them and then forgot all about it. See? We are not perfect.

The Math is simple: we use Math Mammoth and every year I print out their curriculum, which I have in PDF format. Their math binders don’t even have a label. His is black and hers is purple.

Well-Trained Mind school binder system

My son’s school binders

Science is easy, as well. We take nature walks and if we find anything interesting to study, we use notebooking pages to draw or write about our findings. Sometimes I follow Handbook of Nature Study weekly challenges, and most of them come with their own notebooking pages. Other times we just study something out of an animal encyclopedia and we simply draw or narrate two sentences about a particular animal.

If we do science experiments, I have a simple page which details the scientific method used, as Ms. Bauer suggests. Those pages also go in the Science binder. I think I should also record the science books they read, but that’s a little too much for me. If you feel like it, that’s another thing you could put in their binder.

Well-Trained mind binders

Their binders sit on different shelves. He is taller.

The History binder used to have four tabs corresponding to the four volumes of Story of the World, which is our curriculum. What I have found over the years is that the binder gets really full by the end of the school year. There are maps and coloring pages, plus paper dolls and other paper crafts. At the end of the year, I simply get a new binder and take my tab page (which I created four years ago when we got started with this curriculum) to the front of this new binder, so I know which period we are in.

The Language binder is divided by tabs as recommended by Ms. Bauer. Our spelling curriculum comes with its own workbook, but we still find we created separate pages of spelling lists, so it all goes into the Spelling tab of the Language binder. When they memorize a poem, I have them write it out and it goes into their Memory Work tab.

It’s simple, really, and it’s meant to be simple, because you have to keep track of all this work. Ms. Bauer has a box – a simple, unassuming box for her children’s work, where all their work goes. Check out her YouTube videos about it. I do not think she has binders for her children. I might be wrong on this, but I have not seen anything about it.

I find binders easier to handle than a box if I should need to retrieve any of their work at a later date. It does not happen often, but it has happened enough where I know I could not function with boxes.

I hope this helps you visualize the binder system described in Well-Trained Mind. It works for us and it can work for anybody who is organized enough to put pages away once the student has finished with them.

For now, I am keeping the discarded binders and their contents in plastic bins, on shelves in our garage. My children are in second and fourth grade. Who knows if I will have enough room to keep all their work by high school? I think not. When I start culling, I will blog about it.

An important detail, or tip, shared at the end of the post, to reward those who have had the patience to read the entire post (or did you just skip to the end?): file the pages yourself.

Do not trust your child will put their work away if they are in grades K-6. They will learn to do it themselves after age 12, trust me. For now, for your own sanity, just file it yourself. It will keep things organized and give you a sense of accomplishment, too. One other thing done and filed away. Check. What’s next?

Thoughtful Thursday Week 27 – Homeschool Conferences

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I have said it before, and I will say it again: homeschooling parents should attend a homeschool conference at least once a year. Sorry for should-ing all over you, but you should. I am not saying you should spend money on transportation, hotels and restaurants to get to one. But if you have a local event, by all means change your schedule, get a second job to pay for the fee, volunteer at the conference for discounts, do whatever it takes and attend.

Adriana Zoder and Susan Wise Bauer at the Appalachian Home Educators Conference in Knoxville, June 2015

With Susan Wise Bauer at the Appalachian Home Educators Conference in Knoxville, June 2015

The reason people don’t attend homeschool conferences is that they don’t think they will get enough value out of them. I know, I know, some of you are saying, “That’s not true. Some actually can’t afford a conference.” I can agree with that only for the extremely poor, but even they make an effort to earn some extra money for something they deem valuable.

Ultimately, it is human nature to choose activity A over activity B because activity B does not offer as much satisfaction or perceived value as activity A. Sure, I understand schedule conflicts. I also understand lack of resources. I even understand the fact that homeschooling parents are afraid of being made to feel inadequate in their efforts by so-called homeschooling experts.  Continue reading »

And yet, I say, homeschooling parents should attend a homeschool conference once a year. If you think you are doing great and don’t need any help, you should go. Pride comes before a fall… If you are in need of help, you should go. You just might find the right workshop that will get you out of trouble. If you don’t care because you feel blah and hailing down the yellow school bus seems more and more attractive, you should definitely go.

Thoughtful Thursday Week 27 - Homeschool Conferences

The Appalachian Home Educators Conference came and went. Attendance was low. Vendors got in the red after they paid for their expenses to be there for two days. Organizers appeared disappointed. Susan Wise Bauer said this was the slowest conference she has ever attended.

But numbers aren’t everything. I saw some sales being made, parents learning new teaching methods, questions posed and answers given. I saw networking happening, friendships started, and new partnerships forged. Things happen at homeschooling conferences even when they are small.

As for me, I gave my two workshops as scheduled to small but very attentive audiences. I was excited to answer questions and help people. I met my educational guru, Susan Wise Bauer, and spent some time asking her questions of my own. I purchased Peace Hill Press curriculum at 60% off and some really cool science gadgets and field guides for my kids.

My husband got to listen to Ms. Bauer and received a final confirmation that my choices for our homeschool are right for our family. Last but not least, I discovered Virginia Soaps do not give me allergic reactions, despite the fact that I am allergic to fragrance. Their ingredients must be so far from parabens and other chemicals used in commercial soaps, that it actually makes a difference even for those of us who must have everything fragrance-free.

All in all, it was a great weekend we spent together as a family. I wish more of you could have been there, but… again, I understand. There is always next year. Or, why not? There is this online homeschool conference sponsored by Well-Trained Mind Online Academy.

How to Homeschool

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Homeschooling is different for every family, but there are six basic approaches or methods:

1. Classical – A child’s brain development naturally sets the stage for the trivium: primary school, or the grammar stage, during which learning is based on concrete tasks and memorizing facts; middle school or the logic stage, during which learning tackles abstract concepts and reasoning from cause to effect; and high school or the rhetoric stage, when learning focuses more on expressing what has already been acquired. This is the method I lean toward heavily.

2. Charlotte Mason – A British educator of the nineteenth century, Ms. Mason is more relevant today than ever, in my opinion. Her emphasis on living books, i.e. regular books (as opposed to textbooks/workbooks), narration, and nature study would bring life into any educational pursuit. I like this approach very much and use it to balance my natural propensity toward rote memorization. Get more information about Charlotte here. Want a free curriculum with a Charlotte Mason approach? Get it here.

3. Unit Studies – The method which took me the most to understand and appreciate, even though I studied under one of its biggest proponents. The Prussian educational method of separating knowledge into subjects, which was used in my public school, had indoctrinated, errr…. trained me well. Once I got unit studies though, I used Before Five in a Row and came to a new level of freedom in my mind about home education. The mother of all unit study curricula is Konos. I find I am not brave enough for it, but it obviously works for a great number of homeschoolers. In conclusion, I use this method sparingly.

4. Traditional – Most of us learned like this in a public school somewhere around the world. Textbooks provide the theory, which you apply while filling out workbooks. Homeschoolers tend to call this method dry and boring, but some children thrive on this. I have a three-year old who asks for worksheets almost every day. Rod and Staff, Abeka and Bob Jones are examples of traditional curricula. Personally, I use Rod and Staff and anything I can find online. There is a vast array of worksheets online. Don’t get overwhelmed.

5. Unschooling – Also known as relaxed homeschooling or delight-based or child-led. I could not be an unschooler, but I like the emphasis on the child’s desire to look into a certain topic. I recognize that the highest point of learning is when a child asks a question. I capitalize on those teaching moments throughout the day. However, I need the structure of a schedule and a carefully laid out curriculum to feel sane.

6. Eclectic – People like me, who pick and choose at least two different methods, curricula and approaches to tailor the education of their children, are called eclectic homeschoolers.

I am leaving out Montessori, Waldorf, independent study, umbrella/charter/online schools and other methods. The best book I have found, which I think any homeschooler should have on their reference shelf, is Cathy Duffy’s “101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum“. The first few chapters explain methods and learning styles. You will walk away with a clearer picture of what your homeschool should be like.

Special note on The Moore Formula

For a balanced education, i.e. one which trains the hand, the heart and the head, taking into consideration a child’s readiness level for formal education, I always keep in mind The Moore Foundation’s philosophy. In fact, it is the overarching method I keep in mind before making any decision in my homeschool.